Lightning short-circuits taro festival at Hana park

The Maui News
Wednesday, March 31, 2004

By LEE IMADA, News Editor

HANA - Lighting and rain over the weekend forced the postponement and rescheduling of the 12th East Maui Taro Festival to May 29-30, an official with the event said Tuesday.

"I saw big bolts of lightning come from behind Kauiki . . . some were right overhead," said Maria Orr, president of the East Maui Taro Festival Committee, explaining the decision to shut down the event scheduled for the Hana Ball Park on Saturday. The festival is held yearly over four days, with workshops and cultural programs held on Thursday and Friday, and a festival with food and entertainment on Saturday followed by tours and other educational programs on Sunday.

Festival organizers have staged the event in the rain in past years, even when there was 4 inches of standing water in the ballpark - but the lightning was a first in the 12 years of the festival, said Orr.

"We always have done it, rain or shine," she said. "The only difference was the electrical storm.

"It was a safety issue," she said in a phone interview. A county official made the call to postpone the event but "everyone was in agreement," she said.

While understanding that they cannot control Mother Nature, some of the vendors were irritated about how the postponement was handled.

"We understand they have no control of the weather," said Roxanne Cadorna, who makes and sells handcrafted clay flowers. "It was how we were treated."

Cadorna and another vendor complained that they had difficultly obtaining information about the status of the event and wondered why there was no alternative plan in case of inclement weather.

When they got to the ballpark to set up, Cadorna said "nobody really knew anything." She eventually learned from another vendor that a county official was telling everyone that the area was unsafe and had to be cleared.

Vendors were not allowed to drive their vehicles onto the field to gather their merchandise and equipment.

Lynnette Souza, who was set to sell stickers, said she had to park in an adjacent lot, trudge up a hill, wade through the water, undo her tent and lug it back to her van "in the thunder and lightning," she said.

"I was crying," said Souza.

The event was "very, very unorganized," she said. "Until today, I have not heard from anyone."

Orr said she and the rest of the taro festival board members were standing in the rain and water at the ballpark and tried to do as much as they could. She added that her cell phone does not work in Hana, which hindered communications.

"It's something that couldn't be foreseen," Orr said.

There is no indoor facility in Hana big enough to house the taro festival and its 40 arts and crafts and 20 food vendors, Orr added.

"I think what Hana needs is a civic center," she said.

As far as driving on the field was concerned, the vehicles would damaged the field due to the soggy conditions, Orr said. Even when skies began to clear Sunday, county officials said the field would not be useable for two days, which led to the cancellation of Sunday's activities as well, she said.

To avert a similar situation, taro festival organizers are planning to move the event to May when downpours are less likely, Orr said.

This year's rescheduled event is set to run on the same schedule as last weekend with the exception of some entertainment, said Orr. Organizers are checking with Keali'i Reichel, for example, to see if he is available for the May dates.

"We will try to refund the ($50) fee" to vendors unable to make the rescheduled dates, said Orr. Vendors should contact the committee about the refund. She added that other vendors have contacted the committee and put down deposits to fill vacated slots.

The nonprofit taro festival committee took a loss of "several thousand dollars" with the postponement, said Orr. Tent and portable toilet rentals and security contracts must be paid despite the cancellation and will have to be paid again at the rescheduled event, she said.

The Taro Pancake Breakfast, which was set for last Sunday, will be put on on May 30 in conjunction with the rescheduled taro festival. Those with tickets can use them at the rescheduled breakfast.

Refunds may be obtained at the Hana Coast Realty office weekdays, 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Call 248-7002 for more information about the event, co-sponsored by the Hana Branch of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.

All was not lost for those selling perishables and food, said Orr. Many vendors set up in the Old Hana School Cafeteria. Signs for malassadas, Oriental salad, Hawaiian plate and other delectables were seen in open spaces near the ballpark and around town.

Souza of Kahului and Cadorna of Happy Valley set up near the ballpark on Sunday next to a woman selling Hawaiian plates.

Souza, who has attended the festival for the past decade, the last four as a vendor, said the washed-out weekend cost her about $300 for a van rental and lodging. She is not sure if she can make it to the rescheduled event.

Cadorna, a homemaker who spent the last several months preparing hundreds of flowers, says she can't afford to return in May. The washout cost her about $500, she said.

"The taro festival is one of my big events," she said, with the Seabury Hall Craft Fair and Maui County Fair being the others.

Despite her frustration, Cadorna hasn't ruled out a return to the taro festival next year.

"If I do go back, I am going to call make sure they have a plan B," she said. "It rains every year. I don't want to be left out stranded."

Lee Imada can be reached at

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