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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 18, 2006

Federal aid sought in recovery efforts

 •  State attorney general's investigation widening
 •  State got dam complaint 3 weeks before it burst
 •  911 call: 'All my buildings are gone'

By Jan TenBruggencate and Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

Water nearly a foot deep courses over the spillway at Grove Farm's Waita Reservoir in Koloa, Kaua'i, which holds up to 2.1 billion gallons of water. As rains diminished yesterday, the reservoir level dropped 6 inches, easing concerns about flooding in the Koloa area.

JAN TENBRUGGENCATE | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Normally, as seen in the lower left corner of this photo, Waikomo Stream in Koloa, Kaua'i, fed by Waita Reservoir, is barely a trickle. In the lower photo, taken on Thursday, Waikomo is swollen by days of heavy rain. The human-like figure seen in both pictures is nicknamed "The Guardian."

Photos by KENNY GIBBS | Happy Hour Hawaii

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HOW TO HELP

You can send donations to:

  • American Red Cross

    Hawaii State Chapter

    4155 Diamond Head Road

    Honolulu, HI 96816

    Or make a online donation at www.hawaiiredcross.org.

    Or call 739-8109.

  • Hawai'i Community Foundation: The foundation has established a fund to help those affected by the Kaua'i flooding. Send donations to:

    The Kaua'i Island Fund

    Hawai'i Community Foundation, 1164 Bishop St., Suite 800, Honolulu, HI 96813-2817.

    For more information or questions, call the foundation's communications officer, Kim Vierra, at 566-5527.

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    KOLOA, Kaua'i Overwhelmed state officials yesterday said federal assistance would be needed to recover from the catastrophic Kaloko dam burst that's straining local resources to the limit.

    "With the damage to infrastructure and debris, it's beyond the state's capability," said state deputy director of Civil Defense Ed Teixeira, who yesterday said he sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency requesting assistance. "Help us pay for some of the costs and help us help the people."

    Gov. Linda Lingle also asked the state Legislature for more than $14 million in emergency funds for recovery, including hiring consultants to determine the structural integrity of dams and reservoirs statewide, to assess potential immediate risks and to recommend long-term plans to ensure dam safety, a news release said.

    Even as the recovery continued, Teixeira said the threat of rain and more flooding is not over, and he urged anyone who does not want to voluntarily leave areas that become heavily saturated to have a backup plan.

    "I wish I had better news on the weather," he said. "It is very worrisome. The (water) levels on several reservoirs are really high and there is a lot of runoff."

    He said all reservoir owners with high water levels have begun controlled drains designed to prevent spillage.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency is prepared to set up disaster-assistance centers in Kilauea and Kalaheo, but is waiting to see how the latest round of bad weather goes.

    "There's no point in setting them up, and then having to do it again," said Kaua'i County Mayor Bryan Baptiste.

    Baptiste said that the county has received shipments of pumps from Maui and Hawai'i counties, which will be used to control flooding where needed around the island.

    For many Kaua'i residents, the rising waters brought all sorts of hazards yesterday.

    As floodwater rose to within an inch of John Kruse's wooden plantation house floor in Koloa, the vermin came up with it.

    "These big centipedes walking across the floor. You hit them, and they just look at you," said Kruse, a county real property assessor who stayed home from work yesterday to protect his own property.

    When heavy-equipment operator Ricky Waalani, of Lawa'i, began clearing Waihohonu Stream with a huge excavator, floodwater found a way out of the old plantation camp. The yard was still a foot deep, but the flood fell away from the floor, and Kruse was relieved.

    "The water came down 2 inches. That's all you need 2 inches," he said.

    Flooding in communities islandwide takes a back seat to the towering tragedy that started it the collapse before dawn Tuesday of Kaloko Reservoir's dam, sending an estimated 300 million gallons of water down the rural agricultural landscape of Wailapa Stream valley.

    It swept away two houses and many other buildings, and left seven people missing. Three bodies have been found. Two teams from the state's Urban Search and Rescue task force will enter their fourth day of searching today for others.

    Task force commander Ed Simeona said one team is working the sides of the stream, while the other works with an excavator that is gradually dismantling a pile of logs 100 feet long, 40 feet wide and 10 feet high. Search dogs have been reacting to something in the pile, he said.

    The bodies of Christina Macnees, 22, Alan Dingwall, and an unidentified woman have been recovered. Those reported missing include Macnees' fiance, Daniel Arroyo, 33, and Dingwall's wife, Aurora Fehring, 24, and their 2-year-old son, Rowan Fehring-Dingwall. Also missing are Wayne Rotstein, 49, a caretaker and gardener on the Fehring property, and Timothy Noonan, 37, who was staying with Macnees and Arroyo.

    Macnees and Arroyo were to be married today.

    MAINTENANCE OF DAMS

    Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, the state adjutant general, said investigators are now looking into the maintenance of suspect reservoirs, including Kaloko, which has been reported to have been brimming with water before it failed.

    "Looking back, I think we're still missing a lot of information about how Kaloko Reservoir got to such a high level," he said. "With the dam failure we'll be reassessing the standards that give a dam a (safety) rating."

    The flood critically damaged the Morita Reservoir dam, which is a quarter-mile upstream from Kuhio Highway. Response crews were continuing yesterday to drain Morita Reservoir, and had reduced its roughly 20-foot depth by 12 feet or more, Baptiste said. Once its water is removed and danger of dam failure is past, state highways crews will be able to begin assessment and repair of the island's main highway, which has been reduced to one lane of traffic by damage caused in the flood.

    Baptiste said a highway recovery task force includes state structural, design, hydraulic and geotechnical engineers as well as federal highways experts.

    The Kaloko Dam failure particularly in view of continuing islandwide downpours has raised fears about the safety of dozens of other dams on the island. A preliminary review by state Department of Land and Natural Resources officials earlier this week indicated other dams looked sound, but Baptiste said Civil Defense officials have established two dam assessment teams of state, federal and contracted engineers with dam experience.

    One team will study the north shore dams at Kaloko, Morita and nearby Waiakalua reser-voirs. The other will review Alexander & Baldwin's Elua and Alexander reservoirs, and Grove Farm's Waita Reservoir.

    Grove Farm officials yesterday gave a tour of Waita, which they said is constantly monitored and, while full, is safe. Waita has the largest surface area of any body of fresh water in the state, and with a capacity of 2.1 billion gallons is second in volume to O'ahu's Lake Wilson. The reservoir begins dumping water out of a broad spillway when the depth reaches 21 feet. At its highest, on Thursday, the water was 15 inches over the spillway, but by late yesterday it had dropped 6 inches and was continuing to drop.

    There is also no sign of damage at the two A&B dams, but the company said it relocated residents near Elua Reservoir in Kalaheo out of caution.

    The Alexander Reservoir is the site of Hawai'i's worst dam disaster until Kaloko. On March 25, 1930, Alexander Dam collapsed while under construction. Six workers were buried and killed. Two others were injured. Work on the dam resumed and it was completed at a height of 113 feet the next year.

    The safest dams are those that are regularly maintained by companies that need the water behind them, said Alan Kennett, president of Kaua'i's only surviving sugar company, Gay & Robinson. He said his crews immediately divert water away from the reservoirs whenever heavy rains are scheduled, to protect them.

    "Water is our lifeblood at the plantation. When you're using water, you've got to maintain the equipment," he said. "Being an active farming operation, we monitor (the reservoirs) all the time."

    While the Gay and Robinson, Alexander & Baldwin and Grove Farm dams are still being operated by the same companies that do or did grow sugar cane around them, many of the east and north Kaua'i reservoirs have been sold to new owners individuals or small groups who often lack dedicated irrigation staffs.

    RAINS KEEP FALLING

    Yesterday, rains on Kaua'i fell heavily but abated in the afternoon, letting floodwater run off or soak in. Most of the county's emergency shelters had closed, except in Waimea, where six individuals remained due to flooding in Waimea Valley. But the respite was not expected to last.

    County public works crews, supplemented by county parks crews, were focusing on cleaning up mudslides and debris that had washed onto roads around the island, limiting traffic on several roads to a single lane.

    And while the rains keep falling, government officials are launching the next step figuring out what the damage has been, what it will cost to repair it and who will pay the bill.

    In the coming week, the Joint Preliminary Damage Assessment Team will be flying to Kaua'i to determine the dollar value of the damage and Teixeira will be on Kaua'i today to conduct his own assessment. State Civil Defense has asked Lingle for an additional $1 million for the division's major disaster fund, he said.

    Sandra Lee Kunimoto, director of the state Department of Agriculture, will also be coming to Kaua'i to discuss concerns with local farmers.

    She said her department has already processed seven emergency loans for up to $25,000 for farmers on O'ahu and Kaua'i in connection with the recent wet weather. Seven more applications have been received and are being processed.

    "The thing about agricultural damage is not just the pounding of the rain on the crops or the flooding," she said. "Long after the fields dry out, disease can set in."

    Papaya farmers have been hit especially hard by the weather, she said. So has the last sugar company.

    Gay & Robinson's Kennett said cane roads are in bad shape, the cane itself is beaten down, some fields are under water, and delayed harvest after ripening chemicals have been sprayed will cut yields.

    "We had planned to start harvesting this week. I doubt if we'll get started before Easter.

    "We're looking at major, major damage. This just couldn't have come at a worse time for us," Kennett said.

    Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com and Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.