HILO, Hawaii Island – Hurricane Lane had the disaster-weary Big Island on full alert Wednesday. All state offices, schools, shipping ports and leeward beach parks were closed with the Category 4 storm expected to scour southern and western shores Thursday.
There was no sign that any residents or business owners had boarded up their properties, although sandbags had been placed at the entrance doors to one state agency that was closed by order of Gov. David Ige.
Sales of batteries, flashlights, tarps and propane fuel were brisk Wednesday morning at the Hilo Ace Hardware store, said cashier Misty Carver.
Across town, the Home Depot appeared to be well-stocked with hurricane supplies, including bottled water. The store was busy, with most customers buying everyday items unconnected to the impending hurricane. However, two customers said that earlier many people were purchasing plywood sheeting to protect their homes from possible storm damage.
The Central Pacific Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning for the entire island, meaning that damaging winds, surf and flooding are possible within the next 36 hours, according to a 6 a.m. update from the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency.
The greatest impact is expected to be in the tourism- and agricultural-based West Hawaii region, according to the report.
“If this movement continues, residents of West Hawaii must take necessary precautions,” the report added.
South Point Road was the only road closed at the time the update was issued.
As of 11 a.m. conditions in Naalehu, the southernmost community in the United States and closest to the hurricane’s location, were relatively calm, residents there said.
A flash flood warning also is in effect, with the island expected to receive a foot or more of rainfall. This comes after a close call with the recent Hurricane Hector, two big wildfires, a thunderstorm that dusted Mauna Kea’s summit with snow and the ongoing Kilauea volcano eruption, which has some displaced residents still living in emergency shelters.
Four emergency shelters have been opened on the north and west side of Hawaii Island. They include:
• Kamehameha Park Hisaoka Gym, 54-382 Kamehameha Park Road, Kapaau (pet friendly)
• Kealakehe High School, 74-5000 Puohulihuli St., Kailua-Kona (pet friendly)
• Waikoloa Elementary and Middle School,68-1730 Ho’oko St., Waikoloa
People relocating to a shelter should bring a three-day supply of medications and pet food, and if they plan to stay overnight, they should bring your personal blankets and pillows if possible, the Civil Defense Agency said.
Preparations for Hurricane Lane ramped up early Tuesday when the U.S. Coast Guard shut down the ports of Hilo and Kawaihae, through which virtually all imported goods enter.
Young Brothers announced it has stopped accepted cargo at all ports statewide “until further notice.” The interisland shipper asked its Big Island customers to pick up incoming cargo by 11 a.m. Wednesday, the time the Coast Guard will close the Hilo and Kawaihae ports completely. (They were closed to incoming vessels 24 hours earlier, according to Young Brothers’ website.
Big Island Mayor Harry Kim has issued an emergency proclamation “due to threat of imminent disaster on Hawaii Island.” Unless suspended, the declaration will remain in effect for the next 60 days.
Kim, a former longtime Civil Defense administer with decades of experience dealing with myriad disasters, on Wednesday morning told a Honolulu TV station that he has never seen Hawaii threatened by a hurricane with the intensity that Lane is packing. It’s insignificant that today’s slight drop in sustained wind speed to 155 mph has resulted in the storm being downgraded to Category 4 from the maximum Category 5, Kim said.
He urged people to stay informed of the hurricane’s path, noting that the county’s Emergency Operations Center, located in Hilo, is being staffed around the clock and public works crews have already prepared sand bags and cleaned flood canals of debris ahead of the storm’s expected arrival.
Both of the Big Island’s landfills and all county transfer stations were open and operating on normal schedules, according to the Hawaii County Department of Environmental Management.
Ige has closed all state offices through Friday, allowing affected employees to receive paid time off work. However, “essential” workers responsible for disaster response, along with those providing “crucial operations/services” such as state-run hospitals and correctional facilities are expected to report to work, according to Ige’s announcement.
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Jason Armstrong has reported extensively for both of Hawaii Island’s daily newspapers. He was a public information officer/grant writer for the Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation from 2012 to 2016 and has lived in Hilo since 1987. Email Jason at email@example.com