Honolulu warns residents after storm swells dam water levels

In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 photo, Honokohau Valley resident Mundy Gillcoat describes to his son how high flood waters raged outside their home in Maui, Hawaii. Honolulu officials are asking residents near a dam to stay alert for the possibility of evacuating as water levels in the reservoir rise amid heavy rains. Tropical Storm Olivia dumped heavy rains on Maui and Oahu as it crossed the state. (Chris Sugidono/The News via AP)
Water is seen rushing through a spillway in a neighborhood below the Nuuanu Dam in Honolulu on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Honolulu officials say they may need to evacuate 10,000 people from a residential neighborhood if water in the reservoir continues to rise after heavy rains from a tropical storm. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
Water is seen rushing through a spillway in a neighborhood below the Nuuanu Dam in Honolulu on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Honolulu officials say they may need to evacuate 10,000 people from a residential neighborhood if water in the reservoir continues to rise after heavy rains from a tropical storm. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
Officials pump water from a reservoir where a dam came close to overflowing in Honolulu on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Honolulu officials say they may need to evacuate 10,000 people from a residential neighborhood if water in the reservoir continues to rise after heavy rains from a tropical storm. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
Water is seen rushing through a spillway in a neighborhood below the Nuuanu Dam in Honolulu on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Honolulu officials say they may need to evacuate 10,000 people from a residential neighborhood if water in the reservoir continues to rise after heavy rains from a tropical storm. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
A home on Kahekili Highway near the Waihee River Bridge, was evacuated after a flash flood breached the property on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 12, 2018, in Maui, Hawaii. Maui County says several homes on Maui are being evacuated because of floodwaters from Tropical Storm Olivia. (Cindy Ellen Russell/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP)
Water is seen rushing through a spillway in a neighborhood below the Nuuanu Dam in Honolulu on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Honolulu officials say they may need to evacuate 10,000 people from a residential neighborhood if water in the reservoir continues to rise after heavy rains from a tropical storm. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
Water is seen rushing through a spillway in a neighborhood below the Nuuanu Dam in Honolulu on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Honolulu officials say they may need to evacuate 10,000 people from a residential neighborhood if water in the reservoir continues to rise after heavy rains from a tropical storm. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
A bedroom building sits atop downed vegetation after being swept up by floodwaters Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, in Maui's Honokohau Valley in Hawaii. Honolulu officials are preparing for the possible evacuation of 10,000 people from a residential neighborhood after rains from a tropical storm dangerously elevated water levels in a reservoir. Olivia dumped heavy rains on Maui and Oahu as it crossed the state. (Chris Sugidono/The News via AP)
Water rushes through a spillway in a neighborhood below the Nuuanu Dam in Honolulu on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Honolulu officials say they may need to evacuate 10,000 people from a residential neighborhood if water in the reservoir continues to rise after heavy rains from a tropical storm. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
A fire official watches as water is pumped from a reservoir where a dam came close to overflowing in Honolulu on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Honolulu officials say they may need to evacuate 10,000 people from a residential neighborhood if water in the reservoir continues to rise after heavy rains from a tropical storm. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
Water rushes through a spillway in a neighborhood below the Nuuanu Dam in Honolulu on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Honolulu officials say they may need to evacuate 10,000 people from a residential neighborhood if water in the reservoir continues to rise after heavy rains from a tropical storm. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
Water rushes through a spillway in a neighborhood below the Nuuanu Dam in Honolulu on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Honolulu officials say they may need to evacuate 10,000 people from a residential neighborhood if water in the reservoir continues to rise after heavy rains from a tropical storm. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

HONOLULU — Honolulu officials said a dam holding 21 million gallons (80 million liters) of water was not in danger of collapsing Thursday, but still warned nearly 10,000 residents downstream that they might need to evacuate after a tropical storm caused water levels to rise in the reservoir.

Water levels in the dam rose 4-to-5 feet (nearly 1.5 meters) overnight as heavy rains from Tropical Storm Olivia dumped 7.3 inches (18 centimeters) of rain in the area. Meteorologists downgraded the storm to a tropical depression as it moved away from the islands, but warned lingering moisture could bring more rain.

The Board of Water Supply, the agency that manages the dam, said plans call for a mandatory evacuation if the water reaches 1 foot (30 centimeters) under the top of the dam.

The water was 5 feet below the top of the dam at midday Thursday. It's also 18 inches (45 centimeters) below a spillway. Areas downstream would flood if water goes over the spillway, said Ernie Lau, the agency's chief engineer.

"We want people to know, if you live near a dam and were the dam to fail, these would be areas we would want to evacuate before the failure of the dam," Lau said. "But we're nowhere close to that."

The dam is called Nuuanu Dam #1, an earthen reservoir built in 1905 in a residential neighborhood near downtown Honolulu called Nuuanu.

Lau said workers began siphoning water away from the dam before Olivia reached the islands. But these efforts were unable to keep pace with the rain that fell during the storm. On Thursday morning, Lau decided to begin pumping water out of the dam with the help of Honolulu firefighters.

Lau said workers made some headway and water levels came down by 2 to 3 inches. He said they'll make more progress if the rains decrease. Pumping will continue over the next week, he said.

The agency, which is the water utility for nearly 1 million people in Honolulu and surrounding towns on Oahu, said it would coordinate with the city on any evacuation notice.

Andrew Pereira, a spokesman for the city, urged residents to be aware of the situation.

"While it appears the rain is subsiding, we are taking a cautious approach and asking residents to remain on alert," he said in an email.

Sherwod Chock, an artist who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly 50 years, said officials have never warned about high water levels in the dam before.

"It looks it like it can hold it, but you never know," he said. As for whether he had plans if the dam breached, he said: "I think God's going to take care of us."

The dam is one of multiple dams in Nuuanu that are used for flood control. Water levels at a bigger dam, Nuuanu Dam #4, are much lower. This dam also has an additional method for releasing water in a controlled fashion that Nuuanu Dam #1 lacks.

Meteorologists say moisture will linger through Friday, with additional rainfall of 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 centimeters) and isolated amounts of 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) on higher terrain.

That could cause life-threatening flash floods because the ground is already saturated, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said in a statement.

The storm, which was a hurricane earlier in the week, slowly weakened as it neared the state.

President Donald Trump has signed a disaster declaration, which will help FEMA respond, Gov. David Ige said.

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