HAIKU, Maui — The Kaupakalua Dam in Haiku breached in east Maui amid heavy rains and flooding on Monday, prompting authorities to issue an evacuation order for everyone downstream.
At least six homes were damaged or destroyed, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino reported after surveying the area. There was evidence of landslides as well.
The Maui Fire Department reported it received more than a dozen calls for help from residents who were trapped in their homes because of rising flood waters, according to a county update.
The order to evacuate came after dam operators notified the Maui Emergency Management Agency of an “imminent failure” there, according to the National Weather Service’s Honolulu office. The National Weather Service then issued a flash-flood warning until 5:45 p.m. for the area at the emergency agency’s request, NWS officials told Civil Beat.
“Ladies and gentlemen this is a real flooding situation like we have not seen in a long time. In fact some of the residents have told me that this is the worse they’ve seen in over 20 years,” Victorino said at a press conference. He also urged visitors in the area to shelter in place, saying many facilities would be closed as a safety measure.
A river of muddy water flooded the intersection of Kuiaha Road and Hana Highway in east Maui.
As of 5:30 p.m., the Maui Fire Department reported responding to more than a dozen calls for help from residents trapped by rising waters. Those in need of emergency shelter on the island’s eastern end were advised to go to Hana High School. Shelters were also opened at Paia Community Center and the Eddie Tam Center, in Makawao.
Hardly anyone was showing up at the shelters in Paia and Makawao on Monday evening. Meanwhile, officials reported that the flooding had closed Hana Highway from Peahi Road to Keanae.
Kaupakalua Dam is one of the oldest agricultural dams on Maui, stretching 57 feet high and holding some 68 million gallons of water, according to state officials. The state’s online dam inventory system lists its potential for hazard as “high.”
Maui farm company Mahi Pono, one of the dam’s co-owners, said in a statement that the reservoir, located about 5 miles east of the Haiku turnoff on the Hana Highway, was experiencing overtopping but it did not fail.
The company notified the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ dam safety program around 1:30 p.m., and the dam started to overtop at 2:50 p.m., according to state officials.
The area affected downstream includes Hana Highway between Haiku and Pauwela, according to the National Weather Service.
Flash Flood Warning including Maui County, HI until 5:45 PM HST pic.twitter.com/foQBae949L
— NWSHonolulu (@NWSHonolulu) March 9, 2021
Molokai and Lanai are also receiving heavy rains.
Victorino advised people in the area to watch the streams and not to try to cross high water.
“To all the visitors that are out there that may hear this message or word about this flooding, stay in your hotel or your place of lodging. Do not, I repeat please do not go out tonight,” he said. “Luaus are not going to be held. Many outside events are canceled and many restaurants are probably closing to protect the employees as well as their guests.”
The population of the area affected is 6,950 with one school, Hawaii News Now reported.
The parcel of land that includes the Kaupakalua Reservoir is owned by East Maui Irrigation Company, records show. Mahi Pono and Alexander & Baldwin each own 50% of East Maui Irrigation Company, according to DLNR.
Virtually all of Hawaii’s aging dams are in need of repairs. A 2018 Associated Press report found that all of Hawaii’s 130 state-regulated dams are considered hazardous, meaning they could cause death if they would fail. In 2006, seven people were killed when the Ka Loko dam failed on Kauai. Retired Honolulu car dealership owner Jimmy Pflueger was sentenced to seven months in prison for the incident after the state alleged he had illegally filled the dam’s spillway, leading to the breach.
In 2018, heavy rains left the Nuuanu reservoir on the brink of flooding. Local officials had considered evacuating some 10,000 people downstream of that earthen dam on Oahu.
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