KILAUEA — Heavy rains added to the causes of a dam breach at Kaloko Reservoir in Kilauea early yesterday morning, sending millions of gallons of water down Wailapa Stream and sweeping a cluster of homes off their foundations, resulting in one confirmed death, even as a search for seven others continues.
By yesterday afternoon, the body of a male, around 30 years old, was found about a mile off the coast of Kilauea, according to Coast Guard officials. Coast Guard aircraft had been searching the area around Kilauea Bay all day.
The recovery of the body may be connected with the search for the seven missing people.
There were unconfirmed reports the seven people were staying in a compound of homes located near the streambed when the surging waters smashed into the structures and took them off their foundations. The exact number of homes was not known.
Under bleak and overcast skies, Kaua’i police held off a search of the stream makai of Kuhio Highway because of the threat that Morita Reservoir, located makai of Kaloko Stream, might also be breached.
Friends or family members of folks who live on Wailapa Road asked authorities whether property owners should begin evacuations, due to the threat of more flooding of the stream. Officials were urging evacuations.
One case involved a 78-year-old resident who lives along the road, according to a police scanner report.
The flooding from Kaloko Reservoir forced the closure of the intersection of Kuhio Highway and Wailapa Road, essentially preventing anyone from leaving the North Shore or entering it.
Hundreds of motorists bound for Hanalei were turned back by police.
More motorists probably would have tried had they not heard radio reports that the way in and out of the North Shore had been sealed off, the result of the tandem threat by the two reservoirs.
County officials said about a-100-yard swath of the highway west of the intersection of Wailapa Road and Kuhio Highway had been covered with water.
Due to the effects of the heavy rain on Kaua’i, Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste has issued an emergency declaration for the island of Kaua’i.
The heavy rains from a storm weather forecasters predicted will linger over Hawai’i through Thursday also left their mark on Kaua’i’s South Shore.
Earlier in the day, county officials urged Koloa residents who live near the Waikomo Stream to evacuate their homes when water in the stream rose to unsafe levels.
By mid-afternoon, emergency officials deemed it safe for residents to return to their homes.
Officials stressed, however, that folks should be prepared to take appropriate action should the situation change.
Related to the search for the seven people in Kilauea, Kaua’i police officers earlier had completed a preliminary sweep of the Wailapa Stream initially after the flash flood.
As many as seven officers were poised to expand their search with the use of dogs trained to locate people. But they held back when they got word before noon that the Morita Reservoir might breach as well.
Donna Apisa, a one-time president of the Kaua’i Board of Realtors and homeowner on Wailapa Road, said she heard a noise from the stream at around 5 a.m. that was unnerving.
“I heard like a roaring noise outside,” she told The Garden Island. “I thought it was a big engine going, never expected it to be running water.”
About that time, she saw a neighbor walking along the edge of her property with a flashlight, checking the flooding.
“He said ‘I don’t know what’s going on. But the whole property is flooded and trees are down, fences are down,'” Apisa said.
The flooding knocked down a forest of trees on both sides of the stream, leaving high piles of broken limbs and trunks in the stream. One pile spanned the length of three buses and rose to a height of almost 20 feet.
Apisa said she was surprised to see how quickly the stream became a danger to all who live beside it.
The night before Tuesday morning’s flooding, “it was just pretty much a dried-up stream, and all of a sudden, it is just water, a lot of it, coming down,” she said.
The Kaloko Reservoir is on land owned by North Shore property owner James Pflueger. Pflueger was fined $7.5 million by the EPA last week for some unpermitted grading on his property that resulted in environmental damage due to runoff into Pila’a Bay.
“My family and I extend our heartfelt condolences to those on Kaua’i tonight who are awaiting word of missing individuals or have suffered from today’s tragic events on the North Shore,” said James Pflueger in a statement e-mailed to The Garden Island.
“We are in shock and sadness over the loss of life from the torrent of water that escaped from the century-old reservoir partially on property we own,” he said.
“The moment I heard about the reservoir this morning, I rushed to Kaua’i to try to be of help and see firsthand what needs to be done. There is no other word to describe my feelings at what I saw other than I was utterly devastated,” said Pflueger.
“My family and I join all of you who love Kaua’i and live on Kaua’i in your prayers for those missing.”
Apisa said she lives two properties upstream from the homes that were swept away.
George Rapozo of Kapa’a said he and friends went down to the area after he heard on the radio that the homes had been swept away by rushing waters.
He said he saw only the “one foundation” when he reached the property.
Apisa said it was her belief the homes were swept away because they had been built closer to the stream bed than most other homes on Wailapa Road.
“I feel very fortunate my house was high up,”Apisa said. “I can’t imagine waking up and finding water rushing through your house.”
The bottom of one of the structures on a property immediately east of Apisa’s home had been torn away by the flood.
Apisa said she is keeping her fingers crossed for the seven missing persons.
“I feel very sorry for the family,” she said.
Bob Capwell, who owns a home on Kahili Makai Road, which is located northwest of the stream and above it, said the stream has swelled up in the past during heavy storms, but never posed a threat to people or property.
“I have two emotions about this,” he said. “I am very, very sad about the people who (might have) lost their lives, obviously. And yeah, (I am) a little concerned about property damage. That is secondary (though to the possible loss of life).”
For at least four hours, helicopters buzzed the skies between the mauka reservoir sites and makai areas by the stream, checking the condition of the reservoirs and the stream areas for the missing persons.
At some point, the helicopters searched areas by Kahili Beach for the missing persons, according to a police scanner.
Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter and a C-130 Hercules aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point on O’ahu arrived over the Kilauea area by 10:30 a.m. Tuesday to help out, according to a Coast Guard news release. Also in the skies was an Air-One Helicopter aircraft.
In addition, the Coast Guard Cutter Washington, a 110-foot patrol boat homeported in Honolulu, was enroute to Kaua’i to help out.
While the search went on and the cleanup began, Kaua’i police officers turned back hundreds of people on the road, for the public’s safety.
Government backhoes and heavy equipment were used to move debris off the state highway. State Department of Transportation and Kaua’i County Public Works crews manned trucks that took away tons of debris, reportedly to a site in Moloa’a, apparently for temporary storage.
But the work stopped and police cleared the intersection of Wailapa Road and Kuhio Highway with word that the Morita Reservoir “was going to break.”
As of 4:15 p.m. yesterday, the reservoir had not breached, and its status was being monitored by officials.
As a precaution, county officials warned residents to stay away from areas in Kilauea that are between mile markers 21 and 22.For the search, a primary command center was set up at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center, and a second command center was set up at Kula School in Kilauea.
The Kaua’i County Emergency Operating Center, which was staffed with federal, state and county officials, became operational at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.
At the same time, the Kilauea Emergency Response Team was activated, according to group spokesman Rob Robertson, as was the Kauai Amateur Radio Club to transmit emergency communications.
- Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@ kauaipubco.com.
Kilauea town meeting
Governor Linda Lingle, state Adjutant Gen. Robert Lee, state Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua’i-Ni’ihau, state Rep. Mina Morita, D-Hanalei-Kapa’a and others are touring the flooded area by helicopter this morning, and will hold a town meeting at 8:30 a.m. at