Maui News

BREAKING Kaupakalua Dam Overflows: Evacuations Ordered, Half Dozen Homes Heavily Damaged or Destroyed

March 8, 2021, 10:57 AM HST
* Updated March 9, 4:25 AM
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Kaupakalua Dam overflow. (3.8.21) PC: Pacific Disaster Center

By Wendy Osher

Flood Warning Until 3:30 a.m. for Maui (12:20 a.m. 3.9.21, 10:05 p.m. 3.8.21)

The National Weather Service has extended a Flash Flood Warning for the island of Maui until 3:30 a.m.

At 12:20 a.m. radar continued to indicate heavy rain over East Maui, from Haʻikū to Hāna to Kaupō, which includes the area upslope of the Kaupakalua Dam. Rain was falling at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour and area streams are running very high. ʻOheʻo Gulch remains at a level that has produced serious flash flooding along the slopes of Haleakalā from Hāmoa to Kīpahulu in the past. Additionally, Hanawi Stream has risen to a level that has produced flooding along the Hāna Highway near Nāhiku in the past. Heavy rainfall continues to develop just offshore East Maui and is expected to move onshore in the next couple of hours.

Evacuees advised not to return until safe: (9:45 p.m. 3.8.21)

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Maui County officials advise those who evacuated from their homes in Haʻikū to escape flooding from the overflowed Kaupakalua Dam on Monday, not to return to the area until it is safe to do so. Evacuation shelters remain open at the Pāʻia Community Center and Hāna High School. The Eddie Tam Center in Makawao is on standby if the Pāʻia shelter reaches capacity. Maui Beach Hotel is also offering evacuees a special rate of $139 per night.

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Earlier on Monday, the Kaupakalua Dam was thought to have been breached by flood waters, but after closer inspection, county officials determined there was no structural damage. Mayor Victorino reported that approximately a half dozen homes were heavily damaged or destroyed and emergency crews responded to more than a dozen calls for help from residents who were trapped by rising waters.

The Maui Emergency Management Agency reports that water levels are holding steady. County officials are asking residents to remain vigilant as rains are predicted overnight and the area remains in a flash flood watch through at least Tuesday, and could be upgraded if conditions warrant.

With the reopening of Hāna Highway earlier this evening, area lawmakers are advising travelers to proceed with extreme caution as weather conditions can change quickly. 

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“We’ve been in constant communication with County and State authorities to ensure the safety of residents and visitors near Kaupakalua Dam and in other areas of East Maui. We are encouraging people to stay put and seek immediate refuge at the designated evacuation shelters if you are in in vicinity of Kaupakalua Dam and the makai areas of Kaupakalua Road. Do not return to the impacted areas until there is an “all clear” from local officials,” said Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English and Representative Lynn DeCoite in a joint statement.  

Maui County is requesting that evacuated residents remain out of the area until assessment of conditions and damages can be made in the morning.

Flood Warning Canceled: (Update: 7:47 p.m. 3.8.21)

The Maui Emergency Management Agency reported that the high water levels threatening the structural integrity of the Kaupakalua Dam have receded to a point such that an “imminent failure” is no longer expected.

The National Weather Service reports that any additional heavy rainfall in the vicinity of the dam could lead to a short notice Flash Flood Warning for areas downstream of the Kaupakalua Dam, so residents are urged to closely follow the instructions provided by emergency officials.

A Flash Flood Watch remains in effect until 6 a.m. on Wednesday.

Half Dozen Homes Heavily Damaged or Destroyed: (Update: 6:49 p.m., 6:33 p.m., 5:25 p.m., 5:09 p.m., 4:50 p.m., 4:37 p.m. 3.8.21)

Emergency crews continue response to the overflow of a dam at Kaupakalua Reservoir on Maui. The earthen dam in the Haʻikū region of Maui crested over the top this afternoon at around 3 p.m. amid heavy rains and flash flood warning conditions.

Mayor Michael Victorino surveyed the flooding in Haʻikū and reports that Kaupakalua Road was impassible in some areas and approximately a half dozen homes were heavily damaged or destroyed. There is also evidence of landslides, and he is urging residents to remain vigilant.

The Maui Fire Department reports responding to more than a dozen calls for help from residents who were trapped by rising waters, according to Maui County Communications Director Brian Perry.

Hāna Highway reopened this evening after flooding closed the roadway from Peʻahi Road to Keʻanae. Motorists are asked to exercise extreme caution on the roadway and watch out for debris and possible landslides. As of 6:42 p.m., Kaupakalua Road remained closed, and other nearby roads may be shut down as needed.

Kaupakalua area. Road closures are in effect as emergency crews continue response to an overflowed dam. (3.8.21) PC: Cammy Clark

A section of Kaupakalua Road had multiple downed trees that were removed to the side and fast flowing water running beneath. Police remained on scene to monitor traffic, at times, letting vehicles go through one lane at a time.

Officials advise people to stay away from low-lying areas, near streams and from the vicinity of and downstream of Kaupakalua Dam in Haʻikū. An evacuation of residents remains in effect in the vicinity and downstream of Kaupakalua Dam in Haʻikū. “Even if it appears that there is less rainfall and conditions are improving, people should not return to the area until there is an ‘all clear’ announcement,” said Perry.

A flash flood warning remains in effect until 8:45 p.m. as emergency crews continue their response in the area. The warning may be extended beyond that time if heavy rains or impacts from earlier rains persist.

“The County evacuation map shows approximately 30 parcels or lots below the Kaupakalua Dam, which is at Kaupakalua Gulch about five miles east of the Haʻikū turnoff on the Hāna Highway. Anyone who lives in the vicinity of this dam is asked to evacuate immediately,” according to a new advisory issued this afternoon by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The dam’s owner, East Maui Irrigation, contacted the DLNR dam safety program at around 1:30 p.m. to report extremely heavy rainfall and indicated the spillway was running very high, according to information released by the state. DLNR notes that East Maui Irrigation is ½ owned by Mahi Pono and ½ owned by A&B.

A Level 2 emergency was initiated, which means there is “potential for failure.”  At 2:50 p.m. Mahi Pono reported the dam was starting to overtop the embankment.  

“Today we notified state and county officials that due to the unprecedent rainfall, the Kaupakalua Reservoir and Dam, owned by East Maui Irrigation (EMI), reached peak levels causing the over-topping of the dam. The dam did not fail,” said Shan Tsutsui, chief operating officer, Mahi Pono in a statement issued this afternoon.

“Out of concerns for the safety of the surrounding community, the highway was closed and residents were ordered to evacuate upon our recommendation. At this time, the over-topping of the dam has ceased; however, our crews are actively monitoring the situation and will continue monitoring the water levels until it returns to a safe level,” he said.

“Our primary concern is for the safety of the residents in the area and the emergency responders.  We are committed to working with state and county emergency response officials as the situation develop,” said Tsutsui. 

DLNR reports that the Kaupakalua Dam is one of the oldest agricultural dams on Maui. It has a maximum storage capacity of 210 acre feet and can hold 68-million gallons of water. The earthen dam is 57-feet high and 400-feet long and was constructed in 1885, according to state officials.

“Heavy rain began in upcountry Maui at mid-morning, and also flooded roads in the Olinda-Makawao area and was punctuated with nearly constant thunder,” according to the DLNR report.  

Currently, evacuations are underway for everyone in vicinity of Kaupakalua Dam and makai of Kaupakalua Road.

Evacuation shelters are now available at the Pāʻia Community Center, Hāna High School, and Eddie Tam Center. As of 6:15 p.m. there were no evacuees logged at the Pāʻia Community Center.

Gov. David Ige said, “The state is assisting Maui County as residents and visitors downstream of the Kaupakalua Dam evacuate at this hour. The health and safety of our residents and visitors in Haʻikū and surrounding areas remain our top priority as heavy rain is posing a potential threat to the dam. The state and county are closely monitoring the situation. Please stay out of the area until the danger has passed and continue to monitor local media for updates.” 

Anyone living below the Kaupakalua Dam is asked to evacuate immediately until water levels subside and the integrity of the dam is determined.  More information will be released as it becomes available. 

*Maui Now reporter Cammy Clark contributed to this report.

Evacuations Continue, Road Closures in Effect: (as of 4:11 p.m. 3.8.21)

Evacuations continue of individuals impacted by the overflow of Kaupakalua Dam. Shelters are now open at the Pāʻia Community Center, Hāna High School, and Eddie Tam Center for the dam and weather emergency evacuees.

Road closures in effect include:

  • Makawao Avenue at Piʻiholo intersection.
  • Makawao Avenue close to Kokomo intersection. 
  • Brewer Road
  • Keʻe Road
  • Kaupakalua Road  just past West Kuiaha Road
  • Makani Road at Old Haleakalā Highway

Maui Parks Closing Due to Flooding:

All County of Maui parks on Maui island are closing for the rest of the day because of heavy rains and flooding, the Department of Parks and Recreation announced. Park hours are normally 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. The parks will remain closed until further notice. Parks will be assessed for reopening tomorrow.

Area of Kaupakalua Dam. PC: Google Maps.

Kaupakalua DAM OVERFLOW: (3:36 p.m. 3.8.21)

Evacuations are ongoing in Haʻikū for everyone in vicinity of Kaupakalua Dam and makai (ocean side) of Kaupakalua Road. County officials confirm that Kaupakalua Dam has overflowed.

Evacuations have been ordered and are ongoing. All those in the vicinity of Kaupakalua Dam and makai of Kaupakalua Road need to leave the area immediately.

People near heavily flowing streams also should evacuate or seek higher ground.

Evacuation shelters are being opened at the Pāʻia Community Center and Hāna High School.

The public is asked to stay away from Haiku areas affected by the evacuations.

There is also a road closure in effect at West Kuiaha and Hāna Highway.

2 p.m. 3.8.21, just off Kaupakalua above 5 corners, 2.3 miles from reservoir. PC: Darla Palmer-Ellingson

Kaupakalua Dam Failure: (3:21 p.m. 3.8.21)

The Maui Emergency Management Agency is reporting the “failure” of the Kaupakalua reservoir dam in the Haʻikū area. If downstream of the dam please evacuate now. 

Evacuations Ordered: (3:04 p.m. 3.8.21)

Evacuations have been ordered for everyone downstream of Kaupakalua Dam in Haʻikū. Heavy rains have led to the dam cresting. Evacuation shelters are being opened at the Pāʻia Community Center and Hāna High School. People need to stay away from the area. More information will be provided as it becomes available.

Imminent Failure of Kaupakalua Dam: Update: (2:42 p.m. 3.8.21)

The National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Warning in effect until 5:45 p.m. for Maui in the Haʻikū and Paʻuwela area.

At 2:42 p.m., emergency management reported the imminent failure of the Kaupakalua Dam.

Life threatening flooding and significant property damage is expected in areas downstream from the Kaupakalua Dam including Hāna Highway between Haʻikū and Paʻuwela.

The nearest downstream area from the dam is communities in Haʻikū and Paʻuwela, according to the NWS advisory.

As a precaution, the public is asked to stay away from streams, rivers, drainage ditches, and culverts, even if they are currently dry.

Motorists and pedestrians are reminded not to cross fast flowing or rising water in their vehicle, or on foot.

Kaupakalua. File photo by Wendy Osher.

Update: (11:16 a.m. 3.8.21)

The National Weather Service in Honolulu has issued a Flash Flood Warning for the island of Maui until 2:15 p.m. HST.

At 11:15 a.m., radar and automated rain gauges indicated heavy rain falling over windward Haleakalā. The NWS says rain is falling at a rate of 2 to 3 inches per hour. Flash flooding is occurring or expected to begin shortly.

The NWS says some locations that will experience flash flooding include: Keʻanae, Nāhiku, Kīpahulu, Kaupō, Huelo, Kula, Hāna, Makawao, Pukalani, Haʻikū-Paʻuwela, Hāliʻimaile, Paʻuwela, Pāʻia, Haleakalā National Park, Wailua, Kailua and Hāmoa.

Posted: (10:04 a.m. 3.8.21)

The National Weather Service has issued a Flood Advisory for the island of Maui until 1:15 p.m. HST.

At 10:04 a.m., radar indicated heavy rain over windward slopes of Haleakalā and the West Maui Mountains. The NWS says rain was falling at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour.

Locations in the advisory include but are not limited to: Kahului, Lahaina, Pukalani, Makawao, Hāliʻimaile, Kula, Pāʻia, Haʻikū-Paʻuwela, Paʻuwela, Puʻunēnē, Huelo, Māʻalaea, Wailuku, Keʻanae, Waiehu, Waikapū, Waiheʻe, Nāhiku, Kīpahulu and Kahakuloa.

As a precaution, the public is advised to stay away from streams, drainage ditches and low-lying areas prone to flooding.

The NWS advises that rainfall and runoff will also cause hazardous driving conditions due to ponding, reduced visibility and poor braking action. Motorists and pedestrians are reminded not to cross fast flowing or rising water in their vehicle, or on foot.

There is also a flood watch that remains in effect through late Tuesday night.

The NWS forecast calls for deep moisture to spread over Maui County from the east and southeast on Monday, then linger into Tuesday, bringing the potential for persistent heavy rain that could lead to flash flooding.

Satellite imagery (Sandwich RGB – 8 Mar 2021 – 20:41 UTC) PC: NOAA/NWS
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