“They said within minutes, the river was swollen,” said Kauai Fire Dept. Deputy Chief John Blalock.
The hikers were tired, shaken-up, wet and muddy.
The last of 55 stranded hikers made their way home on Thursday, knowing one of them did not make it out alive.
“I know better than to go there on the rainy days, but had a couple of friends that were visiting,” said Daniel Wright.
He said he was with a group of friends, who like dozens of others Wednesday morning, ignored the rain, wind and mud and entered Kalalau Trail head, aiming for world-famous Hanakapi’ai Beach two miles away.
“By the time we started to leave the river crossings were already too high,” said Wright.
“The conditions were not the best, there was a lot of wind,” said Blalock.
He said by 4 p.m. they were getting calls of dozens of hikers trapped up-stream, in inlets and out croppings, by a now gushing Hanakapiai Stream.
“It came to a point where we left three people there because of the dangerous conditions,” said Blalock.
Some watched as one woman, visiting the islands, tried to cross, but was swept downstream.
The woman was identified as Norka Villacorta, 43, of New York City.
“We've been extraordinarily busy in the last month,” said Gina Kaulukukui, who is the director for Life Bridges Hawaii, which is an organization that helps the families of drowning victims on Kauai.
She said this is now the seventh drowning on Kauai in less than two months.
“I can only imagine how overwhelming it would be,” said Kaulukukui.
“They should have waited. It was sad, because it could have been prevented,” said Wright.
By morning, 10 people were choppered out -- the rest walked out on their own accord.
“We escorted them out along the river trail, 48 of them, with our firefighters lining the trail on both sides, and they actually walked out,” said Blalock.
Police said eight hikers returned to find their cars had been vandalized or broken into.