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Maui Mayor Michael Victorino called the flooding "unprecedented."

By Alison Fox
March 10, 2021
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Hawaii declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after floods, landslides, washed-out bridges, and worry over a potential dam failure forced residents to evacuate, according to the state's governor.

The emergency declaration covers the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Kalawao, Oahu, and Kauai, Gov. David Ige said in a statement, freeing up state funds to help with recovery efforts. The disaster emergency relief period will remain in effect through May 8.

The heavy rains first started pounding Maui on Monday, forcing evacuations, heavily damaging or destroying at least half a dozen homes, and washing out or displacing a pair of bridges, according to the island's mayor and the governor's office. At one point, officials worried about water cresting over the Kaupakalua Dam in Haiku.

By Tuesday, a flash flood emergency was issued for the north shore of Oahu in Honolulu county, CNN reported, necessitating even more evacuation orders.

A flash flood watch remained in effect through 6 a.m. on Wednesday, local time.

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino called the flooding "unprecedented," and told CNN that residents have said this is the worst flooding they've seen in more than 25 years.

"When you see flood damage in the light of day, it's a reminder of the sheer power of fast-moving water," Victorino said in a statement as the county started assessing the damage. "We are so fortunate there were no reported deaths or injuries."

By Wednesday, residents had started to assess the damage, including a bridge in Oahu that crumbled when a cement truck drove over it, a home knocked off its foundation, and several feet of mud piled up.

According to Ige's office, "saturated ground conditions and increased water levels in reservoirs have increased the risk of erosion, seepage, piping and fear of dam failure."

Hawaii has worried about the threat of rising sea levels with the potential to cause frequent flooding for years. And last month, the state proposed that hikers who disobey trail closure signs warning of danger (including flash-flood warnings) will have to pay for their own rescues.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.