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Record rains slam Hawaii, force evacuations

Image: Big Island flooding
A motorist tries to navigate the flooded streets of Hilo. Record rainfall over the weekend continued into Monday.Bruce Omori / EPA
/ Source: NBC News and

All of Hawaii remained under a flash-flood warning Monday after record rainfall as heavy as 11 inches in 24 hours slammed the island chain, closing schools, damaging dozens of homes and holding out the threat of mandatory evacuations.

The National Weather Service said a “high alert status” was in effect for Hilo on the Big Island, the state’s second-largest city, where 10.82 inches of rain was recorded Sunday, breaking the 24-hour record by almost 3½ inches.

“The situation in Hilo is critical and a life-threatening situation now,” said Harry Kim, mayor of the Big Island, which is also called Hawaii. As many as 150 homes had been damaged by floodwaters rising as high as 4 feet, he said.

No injuries were reported, but a large, undetermined number of residents of Hilo and the Hanapepe Valley had evacuated voluntarily, Kim said, and the remaining residents should be prepared to leave if conditions worsened. The American Red Cross opened a shelter in Hilo for displaced families.

As showers continued Monday, authorities warned of the potential for dangerous mudslides as hillsides became ever more waterlogged.

Thunderstorms were forecast for Monday night, especially across the southern islands, hampering relief efforts as crews were being advised to stay indoors to avoid the threat of lightning.

Floating container closes bridges NBC affiliate KHNL of Honolulu reported that two major bridges spanning the Hanapepe River were closed after they were damaged when a 40-foot-wide shipping container detached from its mooring and floated down the river. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dispatched a team to Kauai to inspect the system of levees holding back the Hanapepe and Waimea rivers, which are on the national list of levees in danger of failing.

Federal inspectors have criticized the levees for being poorly maintained, with inadequate vegetation to hold the soil, leading to the risk not only of collapse but also of unhealthy runoff. A brown-water advisory was issued Monday for much of the Big Island after storm runoff and raw sewage began seeping into the Pacific Ocean, KHNL reported.