Three dead after Hawaii dam break

by:  Heather Moyer, DNN 

Kauai, Hawaii

The U.S. Coast Guard has now recovered the bodies of three people killed when a dam broke on Kauai last Tuesday. Four people are still missing.

Intense heavy rains have plagued the Hawaiian island for more than a week now, prompting flash flooding and causing the Ka Loko Reservoir Dam to collapse early Tuesday. The ensuing 300 million gallons of water then rushed down a valley and swept away two homes, said a Hawaii State Civil Defense (HSCD) spokesperson.

State officials are now draining several reservoirs around the islands due to worries about more flash flooding and dam breaks.

Last Tuesday's dam failure occurred after six inches of heavy rain fell in less than 24 hours, and residents received no warning when the reservoir behind the dam burst through the earthen barrier, carrying debris at least three miles from the scene.

"It just cleaned off everything in the area," said Ray Lovell, HSCD spokesperson. "It took off the top of the highway, too. There may have been some agricultural buildings in that area, too, but we're not sure."

Officials are now worried about a dam along the lower section of that same valley. "It's now in danger of failing," said Lovell. "They're slowly emptying that one now. We're also now looking at every dam in the state and figuring out where the danger areas are."

Lovell said the dam that collapsed on Tuesday was built in the late 1800s.

Meanwhile, residents on Oahu are still recovering from the flash flooding that hit them earlier this month. "We estimate 120 homes were affected by that flooding, with six that sustained major damage," said Ray Lovell, public information officer for Hawaii State Civil Defense.

He added that damage is still being surveyed there, though. Lovell said state officials are trying to get as much help as possible to the affected families. Some of the damage may not be covered by insurance, and others do not have insurance, he noted. "We're looking into many programs to see what kind of help we can get these people," Lovell said, noting that the hardest hit area was fairly rural and agricultural. "A lot of these folks are farmers."

Lovell also said the rain could get worse on all of the Hawaiian islands before it gets better, with forecasters predicting the same pattern moving back over the entire area for the next few days. The whole state is now under a flash flood watch. 

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