Maui residents evacuated after officials feared dam breach
HONOLULU (AP) — Heavy rains prompted evacuations over fears that a dam might breach on the Hawaiian island of Maui and officials asked people to not to return to their homes on Tuesday because flood advisories were still in effect.
Officials initially thought that the Kaupakalua Dam in the community of Haiku was breached by flood waters, “but after closer inspection, county officials determined there was no structural damage,” said a statement from Maui County late Monday.
The National Weather Service reported that 13.2 inches (33.5 centimeters) of rain fell in the Haiku area of Maui’s north coast between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Monday. Maui and all of Hawaii’s islands are under a flash flood watch amid heavy rains expected to last through Tuesday.
About six homes on Maui were heavily damaged or destroyed, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino’s office said late Monday. He urged people to be vigilant because there were fears that landslides could happen.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a real flooding situation we have not seen in a long time. In fact, some of the residents have told me that this is the worst they’ve seen in over 25 years,” Victorino said on Facebook.
The Maui Fire Department said it responded to more than a dozen calls for help from residents trapped by rising waters.
Water flowed over the top of the dam’s reservoir, but the dam itself did not fail, said Shan Tsutsui, the chief operating officer of Mahi Pono, a co-owner of the dam.
“At this time, the over-topping of the dam has ceased. However, our crews are actively monitoring the situation and will continue monitoring the water levels until it returns to a safe level,” Tsutsui said in a statement.
He urged anyone who needed to shelter to go to evacuation centers that were set up at at a high school and at a community center.
“If you have family and friends and you can get out of the area, that is probably preferable. But be careful if you see high water, turn around and go back,” Victorino said. “Do not try to cross it at this time.”
He also urged tourists to stay in their hotel rooms or wherever they were staying.
Maui County spokesman Brian Perry said he did not know how many people lived downstream of the dam.
A state website says the earthen dam was built in 1885 and is 57 feet (17.4 meters) in height and 400 feet (122 meters) in length. It belongs to the East Maui Irrigation Company, which was created to divert water from streams to sugar plantations.
Mahi Pono, which grows a variety of crops on former sugar cane land, co-owns East Maui Irrigation with Alexander & Baldwin Inc., a commercial real estate developer with roots in the sugar industry.
The state regulates 132 dams across Hawaii, most of them built as part of irrigation systems for the sugar cane industry, according to a 2019 infrastructure report by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Of these dams, 93% are classified as high hazard potential, which means a failure could result in significant loss of life or property, the report said.
A dam failure turned fatal in Hawaii in 2006, when seven people were killed after the Ka Loko dam on the island of Kauai collapsed and water rushed downhill.
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