MOLOKAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hundreds of Molokai residents are being urged not to use tap water until further notice, after vandals damaged two 3.5-million-gallon storage tanks.
The issue prompted several schools to close Wednesday and raised widespread water quality concerns.
It's unknown if the water in the tanks was tampered with, but crews on Tuesday discovered the lids on the tanks were vandalized and one was completely torn off.
"These lids are heavy duty metal lids that are locked down on one side and have metal hinges on the other, so those locks and hinges needed to be cut -- and that's what happened," said Department of Hawaiian Home Lands spokesperson Kuuwehi Hiraishi.
It's unclear when the damage happened or how long the tanks were open to the elements.
During the last routine inspection on Oct. 15, no damage was noted.
Until the state finishes an analysis of the water, residents are being urged to use other water sources for drinking, brushing teeth, washing their hands and bathing, along with cooking or cleaning.
Residents can use bottled water or fill up at the fire hydrant outside the Kulana Oiwi Conference Room on Maunaloa Highway.
"The health and safety of our consumers along the Hoolehua water system is of the utmost importance to the department right now so as soon as we get the test results back we hope to look further into the vandalism and make sure that this doesn't happen again," Hiraishi said.
Halealoha Ayau, DHHL's Molokai district office manager, said the lids on the tanks are heavy and rarely opened.
"So what's somebody's motivation? I doubt it was somebody wanting to sell it, because the covers were both still there," Ayau said. "It was to damage it -- and it takes a lot of effort to have done that. These are heavy steel covers and someone didn't just happen up there and be able to accomplish this with their bare hands. They took tools."
Water quality testing results are due back Wednesday night.
In the meantime, four Molokai schools -- Molokai High, Molokai Middle School, Maunaloa Elementary and Kualapuu charter school -- are closed. The Punana Leo o Molokai preschool is open.
DHHL says the vandalized water tanks serve about 1,800 customers, mostly homesteaders from Kalamaula Hawaiian Homestead and Palaau Hoolehua Hawaiian Homestead and also residents in Kalae. Officials say everyone who uses the water has been contacted.
"We notified all our consumers along that line about the water and the response has been very warm from a lot of our homesteaders," Hiraishi said. "Molokai residents who are not connected to this water system, they've opened up their homes and their water to all the folks that are affected by this. We are very thankful for Molokai's patience and also the resourcefulness of taking care of everyone on their island, despite having an unfortunate situation like vandalism happen in their community."
Ayau, a homesteader without access to clean running water, said the vandalism is disappointing.
"What motivated somebody to do this? I don't know. But I do know that it has negatively impacted an entire community because we have schools shut down. No drinking water notices issued. No bathing. No brushing your teeth. Going into the Thanksgiving Holiday this is a pretty unfortunate situation."