An earthen dam on Hawaii’s island of Kauai burst without warning Tuesday morning. One body was found and as many as seven people were reported missing as two houses were swept away and the island’s main coastal highway was washed out.
Thousands of residents and tourists were cut off along the island’s north shore.
Shortly before 7:30 a.m., a wall of water burst through the dam on Kaloko Reservoir about three miles southeast of Kilauea, Civil Defense and Coast Guard officials and witnesses said.
A 150-yard-wide wave of water washed across a stretch of Kuhio Highway, the only road to resort communities and homes from Kilauea to Haena, said Dave Curtis, Civil Defense spokesman in Honolulu.
Two houses were completely swept off their foundations, Curtis said.
An unidentified body was recovered by a search crew from Coast Guard Station Kauai, said spokesman Michael De Nyse late in the morning.
Coast Guard helicopters continued the search in the debris and water running into the ocean, some three miles from the dam. Several 100-gallon oil tanks were reported in the water but there was no sheen on the water, De Nyse said.
State officials were assessing the condition of the highway, but held off on any effort to restore it until they could determine the safety of other dams in the hills above.
Ed Teixeira, state vice director of civil defense, said in Honolulu that officials were worried about erosion from the flood waters to the lower Morita Reservoir dam.
“I would characterize this as a growing crisis on Kauai,” Teixeira said.
Parts of golf courses and shopping center parking lots were flooded, and major runoff into the normally blue ocean caused a sea of muddy waves all around the popular resort island.
Rod Hiraga, state transportation director, said the force of the water scoured and flooded 100 yards of highway.
The small airport at Princeville remained open, but tourists with flights from the main airport in Lihue would be unable to get there until the road is repaired.
Kauai is dotted with private earthen dams such as the one that broke open. Kaloko dam was 40 feet high and about 800 feet long, capturing runoff from small streams. Officials estimate that about 1,400 acre feet of water poured out of the reservoir, which is enough water to cover 1,400 acres a foot deep, or more than 60 million cubic feet.
It has been raining heavily across Kauai and the rest of the Hawaiian Islands in recent days with more rain forecast Tuesday.
Ray Lovell, a state Civil Defense spokesman, said state resources were being mobilized.”The state will provide whatever we can to help them respond to this,” Lovell said.
Roy Matsuda, lead forecaster at the Honolulu office of the National Weather Service, said a storm dumped five to six inches of rain on Kauai in the last 24 hours.”Kauai has been fully saturated,” he said. He said the storm has nudged off Kauai but was heading toward Oahu.
The weather service issued a flood warning for the entire state, cautioning residents of the threat of flooding. In fact, heavy rains flooded parts of Oahu last week. And emergency crews just finished replacing 12 utility poles along the island of Oahu’s Waianae Coast’s main highway Monday, one day after strong winds following heavy rains knocked them down, smashing 17 cars and injuring two people.
Officials say a strong wind gust cracked the poles in half around 1 p.m. Traffic backed up for miles as police closed several blocks of Farrington Highway in Nanakuli.
Police said a woman and child in one of the damaged cars were taken to Waianae Comprehensive Center with minor injuries. Others were treated at the scene.
Hawaiian Electric Co. said Monday afternoon that about one-third of some 1,400 affected customers remained without electricity, but full service was expected to be restored by 6 p.m.
Downed street signs and traffic lights also were being restored, state officials said.
Officials kept a military road through the Waianae Mountains open on Monday to reduce traffic on Farrington, which was partially opened.
Ray Tanabe, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said he believed the incident was caused by a strong gust of wind that picked up speed after rounding a corner.
The weather service said winds on the Waianae Coast were at about 35 mph Sunday, with the possibility of localized gusts reaching 50 or 60 mph.
HECO spokeswoman Sharon Higa said the poles are designed to withstand 80 mph winds.
Meanwhile, Gov. Linda Lingle on Sunday signed a supplement to her March 2 emergency proclamation, extending relief and assistance to residents and businesses on all islands affected by recent heavy rains and flooding through the weekend.
The governor’s original proclamation covered Feb. 20-24 and March 1-3 and included only Oahu, Kauai and Maui. The supplemental proclamation covers March 8-12 for all islands.
The proclamations make personal and commercial loans available to families and businesses damaged by the unusually heavy rain. They also authorize the National Guard to assist civilian authorities in disaster prevention, relief and cleanup.