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Posted On: Mar. 16, 1997 12:00 AM CST

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand-Loss adjusters, hydrologists and consulting engineers are trying to determine why a partly constructed irrigation and hydropower dam in New Zealand collapsed last month, flooding nearby farmlands.

The dam, near Fairlie, which is about 140 miles from Christchurch, on the eastern coast of the south island, was partly completed when it collapsed Feb. 6 after heavy rain fell in the area.

Farmers in the area, mainly sheep and cattle farmers and barley growers, have been badly affected by flooding but have not yet estimated their losses.

Opuhu Dam Ltd., a Dunedin-based construction company, had a contract works policy with property limits of $30 million NZ ($21.1 million), and an additional $10 million NZ ($7 million) in third-party liability cover.

The lead insurer is Auckland-based Lumley General Insurance Ltd., with 40%. Four other New Zealand-based underwriters shared the remaining 60%.

Ron Wardle, assistant manager-technical for Lumley New Zealand, would not name the other underwriters on the risk. He said no third-party claims have yet been received as of early last week.

Mr. Wardle said the construction company had notified Lumley of its intention to file a claim, but liability will not be determined until the reports from adjusters, hydrologists and engineers are completed.

He said the construction company wants to rebuild the dam, which was to be used to irrigate crops, and included turbines to generate hydroelectricity.

Alistair Inman, chairman of the Federated Farmers' South Canterbury region meat and wool committee, was one of the worst-affected farmers. He would not disclose his loss estimate but said he lost about 5 miles of fencing, 200 sheep, and more than 600 bales of fodder. A nearby deer farmer lost much of his herd after fences were washed down.

Mr. Inman said that he and other affected farmers will meet construction company representatives March 25 and expect a compensation proposal.

The dam, only weeks from completion when it collapsed, had a 1,287-foot-high wall, and the storage area was to cover 1,754 acres and hold 100 million cubic meters of water.