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Kauai sees record, prolonged rainfall

/ Source: The Associated Press

Home to one of the wettest spots on earth, Kauai is no stranger to rain. But this island has been under a downpour for more than a month now, flooding roads, homes and farms while testing the patience of residents and tourists.

Long-standing monthly rainfall records have already been broken with several days left in March.

The lush and soaked Garden Island has been under a flash-flood advisory or warning for most of the days since heavy rains started on Feb. 19. And more rainy days are expected ahead.

"It's been about five weeks of very wet pattern of weather that's significantly different. It's been so prolonged," National Weather Service meteorologist Jonathan Hoag said Saturday.

The Kauai Visitors Bureau claims on its Web site: "Kauai's weather is glorious year-round."

So far this year, it hasn't been.

Through March 20, Wailua had 38 inches of rain, nearly triple the March record of 13.46 inches set in 1967. Lihue Airport recorded 25.82 inches of rain in the first 20 days, breaking the March 1951 record of 14.54 inches.

Mount Waialeale, considered among the rainiest places on the planet, had 79.56 inches in the first 20 days of March. The record for the entire month is 81.95 inches set in 1951.

About 116 inches of rain fell on Waialeale in a 30-day period ending March 20. That's nearly 10 feet of rain.

The downpours have been caused by a series of upper-level low-pressure systems northwest of the Hawaiian Islands.

The heavy rains contributed to a March 14 failure of a 116-year-old earthen dam at Kaloko Reservoir, unleashing 300 million gallons in the Kilauea community and killing as many as seven people.

But some aren't blaming that all on the weather.

"There's lots of negligence that precedes this disaster," said Ben Guevara, who lives next to real estate agent Bruce Fehring's property where two homes and seven people were swept away.

The privately owned Kaloko dam, built in 1890, broke without warning, cutting a three-mile path of destruction to the sea.

Gov. Linda Lingle toured the area by helicopter a day after the break and placed responsibility for repairing and maintaining reservoirs on the private owners but acknowledged the state was not keeping up with inspections of the dams.

The state attorney general has subpoenaed construction and maintenance records from the two owners of the Kaloko Reservoir as part of an investigation to determine how and why the dam failed.

The dam was on the same property that co-owner Jimmy Pflueger cleared without government approval, leading to a 2001 mudslide and $12 million in penalties and required payments.

Guevara, who lost a large portion of his backyard, and many other residents said the dam break, the deaths and destruction could have been avoided.

"Everyone is pointing fingers but no one has taken accountability yet," Guevara said. "We just want everything back to normal, nothing more."

The wall of rushing water flattened and destroyed 400 mahogany trees on Terry and Carole Wells' property, which is next to the Fehrings' land. The trees were 6-years-old and helped shield the Wells home from the water.

The area where their neatly lined trees once stood is now replaced with mountains of debris, including two cars that were carried down by the raging water.

Along with many others on Kauai, the Wells are struggling to return to normalcy and mourning the deaths of their neighbors.

"We still have our lives and house," Carole Wells said. "We feel so sorry for Bruce and his family."

The American Red Cross told state officials that 57 homes on Kauai were affected by the heavy rains. But Ed Teixeira, vice director of the state Civil Defense Agency, said the number should be closer to 100.

The sun came out on Kauai for many hours Friday, giving the island a reprieve from the rain. Tourists were back on the beach, cows and horses were grazing on the green hillsides and the waterfalls could be seen across the island.

But scattered showers and thunderstorms were expected for the remainder of the month.

"This week is not looking good," Hoag said. "We're still expecting another episode of heavy rain."