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Earthen Dam in Hawaii Bursts, Killing One

March 15, 2006

KILAUEA, Hawaii (AP) _ One person was killed and up to seven others were missing when a rain-weakened dam failed on this western Hawaiian island, sending a wall of muddy water, trees and debris down the mountainside and prompting fears about the safety of other dams.

The water cut off access to and from thousands of rural houses and luxury condominiums along Kauai’s rural north shore. At least two homes were swept off their foundations and several hundred feet of the island’s main highway were washed out.

``Sounded like a 747 jet crashing here in the valley, all the trees popping and snapping and everything,″ said John Hawthorne. ``It was just a horrendous sound, and it never quit.″

Search crews recovered the body of an unidentified adult male. Up to seven people were missing and residents said one family whose home was swept away is missing several children.

Gov. Linda Lingle, who planned to tour the area Wednesday morning, signed a proclamation Tuesday extending state disaster programs and services to the residents affected by recent rains and flooding.

The governor also made personal and commercial loans available to people whose homes or businesses sustained damage, and authorized the use of National Guard troops to assist civilian authorities in disaster relief.

State officials were assessing the safety of other dams in the Kauai hills, which are dotted with private earthen dams such as the one that broke open.

Ed Teixeira, state vice director of civil defense, said in Honolulu that officials were worried about erosion caused by floodwaters.

``I would characterize this as a growing crisis on Kauai,″ he said.

The Kaloko Reservoir dam gave way about an hour before dawn without warning after days of heavy rain.

The dam, about 40 feet high and 1,800 feet long, captured runoff from small streams. Authorities estimated 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.

``You couldn’t see anything, you just could hear it,″ said Kilauea resident Kristen Kurtz. ``Now they’re seeing all the damage. It’s crazy.″

Late Tuesday, road crews began clearing mud, trees and other debris from the highway by the truckload until work was stopped so water could be released from Morita Reservoir, state transportation spokesman Scott Ishikawa said.

Edwin Matsuda, an engineer who heads the state’s safety programs, has said nearly all of Hawaii’s dams were built early in the past century before federal standards existed or the advent of the state’s program for assessing dam and levee safety.

Peter Young, the chairman of the board for the Department of Land and Natural Resources, said the department is trying to determine when the Kaloko Reservoir dam was last checked.

Officials feared Morita Reservoir’s dam, located downstream from Kaloko, might also fail. Two schools were being used as emergency shelters.

``Everybody’s on edge,″ resident Victoria Stamper said.

One lifelong north shore resident, Be Chandler, waited patiently in her pickup truck in hopes her mother, who was stranded on the other side of the Kuhio Highway, would be allowed through. Her 74-year-old mother is in a wheelchair and requires dialysis three times a week.

``Somehow, we have to get her over,″ said Chandler. ``I’m just praying to see my mom.″

Roy Matsuda, lead forecaster at the Honolulu office of the National Weather Service, said Tuesday that a storm had dumped 5 to 6 inches of rain on Kauai in the past 24 hours.

An exhausted Katie Carlin, of San Mateo, Calif., arrived Monday night with her husband and two young children only to find they were unable to reach their hotel room in Hanalei because of a flooded bridge.

``We’re trapped,″ she said. ``It’s small potatoes to what’s going on here, but I just don’t want to spend another night in the car.″

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Associated Press writer Tara Godvin in Honolulu contributed to this report.

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