Legendary surfer rescues stranded family

Surfing legend Laird Hamilton saves dozens of people and animals from floodwaters in Hawaii.

Posted: Apr 20, 2018 7:17 PM
Updated: Apr 20, 2018 7:17 PM

Hours before the Gwilliam family would leave the Hawaiian island of Kauai, they became stranded. According to CNN affiliate KHNL, a deluge washed out a bridge, cutting the San Diego family's vacation rental off from safety.

"We tried not to let the kids see, but I was terrified," Erin Gwilliam, the mother, told KHNL.

But a nearby resident and good Samaritan approached in his boat and helped the family escape.

Their knight in a shining wetsuit? None other than surfing legend Laird Hamilton.

The famous big wave surfer has spent days coordinating rescues after severe rain struck last weekend, causing mudslides and power outages on the island of Kauai, where he lives. The resulting floodwaters have forced hundreds of people to evacuate.

In an interview Thursday, Hamilton sheepishly told CNN he's coordinated or conducted more than 75 rescues in floodwaters near his Kauai home, but he's not asking for credit.

"If you have compassion, this is what you do," Hamilton said. "These are opportunities to make a difference, when it really counts."

Over 400 people have been airlifted from Kauai since Monday, according to County Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. The island is particularly vulnerable, because the ground has become heavily saturated from the record-breaking rainfall of more than 30 inches.

Rescues weren't limited to people

Hamilton said the boat launch at his home is on the high side of the flood plain, which enabled him to continue the rescues, even as other boat launches across the island remained submerged.

"It allowed me to have access to the water," he said. "I was able to support farmers, help some people off their roofs and get them what they need."

The surfer has been getting up at 4 a.m. each day, working to help as many people in remote areas as he could before sundown, according to a spokeswoman for Hamilton.

Hamilton also rescued 15 girls from the home of fellow surfer Leila Hurst, and lent his boat launch to members of the National Guard, who used the location as a departure point for their own rescue operations.

The rescues weren't limited to humans: Hamilton and his friends also rescued approximately 80 bison they found in the flood plain, spread out to different spots around town, he said. Some were even standing on the reef.

"We were just going around in boats, tying them and towing them, trying to get them back into pasture," Hamilton said.

The threat isn't over

Flooding is not unusual for the area, Hamilton said, but the weekend's rainstorms were unparalleled. "People don't know the level of intensity of what's happened here," Hamilton said. "There are people who have lost everything."

"The power, the length and the strength of this: It's unlike anything that I've ever seen."

The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for all the Hawaiian islands through Friday afternoon.

Hamilton said it's the Hawaiian residents' resilience and unity that helps them persevere in difficult times.

"In Hawaii we have a word called 'ohana.' It means family," Hamilton said. "Family and friends banding together. It's a pretty wonderful thing. This would have been much worse had we not all banded together here. That's ohana."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 604406

Reported Deaths: 7629
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1249281777
Ramsey52501896
Dakota46829470
Anoka42767458
Washington27423291
Stearns22555224
St. Louis18138313
Scott17550135
Wright16374149
Olmsted13397102
Sherburne1201695
Carver1067248
Clay826092
Rice8200110
Blue Earth762544
Crow Wing681794
Kandiyohi667985
Chisago619852
Otter Tail585884
Benton582998
Goodhue483874
Douglas475481
Mower470633
Winona461351
Itasca459463
Isanti439964
McLeod430561
Morrison424862
Beltrami407861
Nobles407650
Steele397916
Polk389072
Becker386755
Lyon363853
Carlton352856
Freeborn346933
Pine335023
Nicollet331245
Mille Lacs311954
Brown307840
Le Sueur297326
Cass286132
Todd285633
Meeker263342
Waseca238023
Martin235332
Roseau211221
Wabasha20783
Hubbard196641
Dodge18783
Renville182446
Redwood176539
Houston174616
Cottonwood167124
Wadena163323
Fillmore157410
Faribault154719
Chippewa154038
Pennington153820
Kanabec146828
Sibley146810
Aitkin138937
Watonwan13579
Rock128719
Jackson122612
Pipestone116726
Yellow Medicine114920
Pope11306
Murray107110
Swift106918
Koochiching95417
Stevens92411
Clearwater89016
Marshall88817
Lake83220
Wilkin83213
Lac qui Parle75622
Big Stone6044
Grant5948
Lincoln5853
Mahnomen5669
Norman5479
Kittson49022
Unassigned48393
Red Lake4017
Traverse3775
Lake of the Woods3453
Cook1720

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 371050

Reported Deaths: 6051
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58259640
Linn21218339
Scott20307248
Black Hawk16139312
Woodbury15238230
Johnson1461985
Dubuque13509211
Dallas1128899
Pottawattamie11225174
Story1071448
Warren583891
Clinton561593
Cerro Gordo554093
Sioux517474
Webster515794
Muscatine4882106
Marshall486676
Des Moines467472
Wapello4338122
Buena Vista426940
Jasper421172
Plymouth403181
Lee382356
Marion366076
Jones300957
Henry294637
Bremer288461
Carroll286952
Boone268634
Crawford268440
Benton259855
Washington257251
Dickinson249344
Mahaska232651
Jackson225242
Clay216727
Kossuth216166
Tama211971
Delaware211143
Winneshiek198635
Page194522
Buchanan193833
Cedar192423
Hardin187444
Fayette186643
Wright186040
Hamilton181951
Harrison180073
Clayton171157
Butler166335
Madison164619
Mills163824
Floyd163442
Cherokee159338
Lyon158841
Poweshiek157036
Allamakee152952
Hancock150334
Iowa149824
Winnebago144531
Cass139255
Calhoun138913
Grundy137333
Emmet135841
Jefferson133435
Shelby131537
Sac130920
Union130035
Louisa129849
Appanoose129049
Mitchell126643
Chickasaw124817
Franklin123523
Guthrie123332
Humboldt119626
Palo Alto113623
Howard104922
Montgomery103638
Clarke100924
Keokuk96732
Monroe96431
Unassigned9560
Ida91535
Adair87332
Pocahontas85822
Davis85225
Monona82931
Osceola78916
Greene78011
Lucas77923
Worth7618
Taylor66812
Fremont6269
Decatur6169
Ringgold56424
Van Buren56418
Wayne54423
Audubon53411
Adams3444
Rochester
Cloudy
59° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 59°
Mason City
Cloudy
60° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 60°
Albert Lea
Cloudy
63° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 63°
Austin
Cloudy
63° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 63°
Charles City
Cloudy
63° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 63°
Sunshine to start the workweek
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events