Hurricane Iselle, the first hurricane that could hit the Big island in more than 20 years, was steadily churning toward Hilo and expected to make landfall Thursday.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Julio is advancing toward the islands and could strike the Big Island as soon as Sunday. On Wednesday evening, Julio was 1,450 miles east of Hilo, about 1,000 miles behind Iselle.
On Wednesday, Iselle was considered a category 1 hurricane. On Tuesday evening it appeared as though the cyclone was weakening, but then it started to strengthen Wednesday. It’s expected to make its way across the rest of the state on Friday.
“Because it’s maintaining its strength right now, it’s minimizing the likelihood that it’s going to weaken,” National Weather Service meteorologist Michael Cantin said Wednesday afternoon. “It’ll be a rough end of the week for us.”
Officials are saying little about Julio at this point, noting that it’s still too far away from the archipelago to speculate about its impact on the islands.
A hurricane warning has been issued for the Big Island — the first such advisory to be issued for the island in more than a decade — while a flash flood watch is in effect across the entire state through Saturday morning. As of Wednesday afternoon, tropical storm warnings had been issued for most islands, including Oahu. A tropical storm watch was in effect for Kauai and Niihau.
Iselle is expected to bring heavy rain of between five to eight inches in most places and strong winds of 40 mph to 50 mph, as well as surf of 10-15 feet on east- and north-facing shores. The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned that storm surges are often the most dangerous elements of hurricanes and tropical storms.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed an emergency statewide proclamation on Wednesday morning in anticipation of Iselle and Julio to activate the fund earmarked by the Legislature for disaster relief. The proclamation also gives easier access to funds by state and federal government agencies for relief purposes and relaxes certain laws that can be needed in emergencies. The emergency relief period is effective immediately and lasts through Aug. 15.
Still, Abercrombie on Wednesday warned against overreacting to the impending weather, stressing that all emergency preparations have been made.
“Pay no attention to speculations,” he said, urging residents to deal with Iselle and Julio “in real time.”
“Remember to stay focused,” he said.
Emergency proclamations have been issued specifically for Maui and Hawaii counties. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell hasn’t yet issued an emergency declaration for Oahu.
Residents are being urged not to call 911 unless it’s an emergency.
The Hawaii Department of Education is closing all public schools on the Big Island, Maui, Molokai and Lanai on Thursday and Friday, in part because many of the schools also serve as emergency shelters. Most of the charter schools on the islands will also be closed. More information can be found on the department’s Twitter account or the Charter School Commission’s website.
A number of other government agencies and companies have also announced closures in anticipation of the weather, including all state offices in Maui County and on the Big Island, which close on Thursday at noon and will remain closed through Friday. The University of Hawaii’s Big Island campuses will be closed all day Thursday and Friday, while its Maui campuses close at noon Thursday and all day Friday.
A number of events have also been cancelled, including the Building Industry Association of Hawaii’s weekend expo. Meanwhile, some airlines and hotels are waiving cancellation and change fees, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Caldwell said he returned to Oahu from Japan two days ahead of schedule because he “thought it was important for all of us to be together.”
Hurricane Iselle marks the first time that all of his cabinet — including a range of department heads — have come together to coordinate services, he said.
“My No. 1 message is plan for the worst, hope for the best and be flexible — but not to overreact either,” Caldwell said Wednesday.
Caldwell hasn’t yet confirmed whether Honolulu agencies will be open Friday. Trash pickup on Oahu will continue as scheduled on Thursday, though officials on Wednesday urged residents to remove bulk items and trash bins from the streets once the weather hits.
Officials are actively reaching out to the homeless and encouraging them to go to shelters once the storm hits. However, some homeless advocates have criticized the state for closing some parks a full day before the shelters will open.
Most of the counties had finalized their emergency shelter lists by Wednesday evening. The Oahu shelters, which will all be operated by American Red Cross volunteers, open Thursday at 10 p.m. The shelters should be “refuges of last resort” for residents, officials said Wednesday.
City buses on Oahu will cease regular services through Thursday evening, after which they will serve as special evacuation shuttles starting at 10 p.m. to transport people to the shelters and will run until one hour before the outer edges of the storm reach the island. They will stop for anyone along the routes. More information is available online.
Residents across the state are being urged to conserve water.
As of Wednesday, the primary election was slated to continue as scheduled on Saturday. Abercrombie on Wednesday said he doesn’t anticipate that elections “will be adversely affected.”
Still, Abercrombie, who’s running for re-election, has the authority to issue an emergency proclamation extending or changing voting hours. The state elections office has authority to consolidate polling venues if necessary.
Officials noted on Wednesday that few polling locations are also designated emergency shelters.
Candidates have been urging supporters to cast their ballots early and remove any campaign signs and banners from their yards as a safety precaution.
The most powerful hurricane to hit Hawaii in recorded history was Hurricane Iniki, which devastated Kauai in 1992. The category 4 hurricane had winds of 145 mph and gusts as high as 175 mph. Iniki caused about $1.8 billion in damage and as many as six deaths.
Officials warn that if a major disaster were to occur, the state wouldn’t be able to provide extensive emergency relief for a week. As a standard precaution, they’re urging residents to take care of their own emergency needs for at least seven days.
Residents are encouraged to have disaster preparedness kits with necessities including food, water and supplies to stay warm.
Here’s a list of supplies the City and County of Honolulu encourage residents to have on hand:
Hawaii’s electric companies are also urging residents to take various safety measures in the event of a disaster or power outage, including unplugging unnecessary electric equipment and appliances and staying away from downed power lines. A full informational handbook can be downloaded here.
The Humane Society also has a set of guidelines for pet owners that can be found here.
The close succession of Iselle and Julio is rare but not unheard of; the onset of the El Nino season means the environment is more favorable for increased tropical cyclone activity, officials say. The storms, however, aren’t expected to exacerbate each other’s impacts.
The National Weather Services’ Honolulu office will continue to provide updates as the two systems advance toward Hawaii.
Here are some sites you can check for updates:
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