The outlook for Hurricane Lane — and the danger it poses to this remote island state of 1.4 million residents — is becoming more grim.
As of early Wednesday, it was a high-end Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, according to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. Hurricane warnings were in effect for Hawaii County and Maui County, while hurricane watches covered Oahu and Kauai.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service predicted the powerful cyclone will veer closer to Hawaii’s vulnerable southern shores than previously expected.
The storm’s westward march across the Pacific slowed Tuesday to about 9 mph, threatening to hang over the islands for a longer period of time.
And as forecasters updated their models Tuesday a sobering reality began to sink in: Hawaii faces the most potentially destructive storm in 26 years, since Iniki battered Kauai in 1992.
Hurricane Lane as a Category 4 hurricane captured at 1 a.m. Tuesday by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership.
Residents shifted into full preparation mode Tuesday. In Iwilei, customers at one of the world’s busiest Costco locations packed the aisles. Attendants did what they could to help move clogged vehicle traffic through the store’s jammed parking lot rows as lines of cars spilled onto Alakawa Street.
Inside, the crowds of shoppers grew more dense near the shelves that were being emptied of bottled water. At least half the carts near the checkout contained more than one case of water.
Near 5 p.m., a Honolulu radio deejay asked listeners between soft-rock ballads to call in and suggest locations where water was still available. Later in the evening, long lines for propane had formed at the City Mill on Waialae. Spam supplies were nearly gone off the shelves at Wal-Mart.
“I know the folks on Oahu, we have not been tested by the major impact of a hurricane or tsunami. And the real test is, how we respond,” Honolulu Mayor Caldwell told reporters gathered at Gov. David Ige’s State Capitol chambers Tuesday. “That’s the test that we may have to face and I think we’re prepared to respond to it.”
Ige, meanwhile, told reporters he spoke with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long on Thursday and assured Long that state and county officials are working as “one team” to prepare for the hurricane.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell passes in front of a monitor showing the latest path of Hurricane Lane
Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat
Ige and Caldwell each issued preemptive emergency proclamations Tuesday that they hope will cut some red tape — and help address the heavy rains, pounding surf and damaging winds expected to reach Hawaii shores beginning Thursday.
On the Big Island and in Maui County, public schools are closed until further notice and Ige granted “nonessential” state employees there administrative leave through Friday. Camping permits on Oahu have been suspended.
In Honolulu, city departments shut down their irrigation systems to help the Board of Water Supply fill the island’s reservoirs to full or near-full capacity. It’s a necessary step in case Oahu loses the electricity that powers its pumps.
City officials are considering suspending the island’s sorted trash service, to avoid having those green, blue and gray bins out on the street if hurricane or tropical storm winds arrive.
The city will also assess Wednesday whether to close the zoo in Waikiki, its public golf courses and its parks, Caldwell said. It might discontinue bus service during Lane’s fiercest wins and rains, he added.
The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center was set to close at noon Wednesday ahead of the storm and remain closed until further notice, according to the National Park Service.
Ports Poised To Close
Earlier Tuesday, a conference call with more than 100 people from the U.S. Coast Guard, the state Department of Transportation, the Navy, the Army Corps of Engineers, the island’s shipping companies and others discussed Lane, port conditions and when Honolulu Harbor — the state’s lifeline — might close.
The Coast Guard could order the port closed as early as Wednesday, said Mike MacDonald, Young Brothers’ marine operations director.
Young Brothers planned to attempt one final cargo run — a critical food and fuel shipment to Molokai and Lanai — on Tuesday night before halting its barges’ cargo runs Wednesday. Whether the last-minute food and fuel makes it to the neighbor islands depends on the port conditions there, McDonald said.
Then, the eight-barge fleet plans to leave Honolulu Harbor and escape to a point 275 miles southwest of Hawaii.
To dodge Lane, they’ll have to leave the harbor by 3 a.m. Thursday at the latest, MacDonald said.
As a rule of thumb, you never want to position your vessels north and east of a tropical cyclone, he added. “That’s where all the power is — that’s where you’re going to get beat up.”
Young Brothers Director of Marine Operations Michael MacDonald shows the potential “code Zulu’s,” or closure dates, for the state’s ports.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The shipping company relies on several private weather forecasters who provide multiple storm models to help predict where Lane will head.
“We’re taking all these models into play,” MacDonald said as other company personnel busily prepared for Lane in a conference room overlooking Pier 40.
“No matter what, we’re going to have serious impacts to basically all the islands,” MacDonald said.
Once Lane passes, the barges plan to return to port carrying with them about two-thirds of the company’s forklifts, loaders and other equipment used to load cargo. Young Brothers then plans to see where — and how best — to use that equipment in the harbor.
At the Capitol, Ige said that a direct hit to “any significant populated area” would overwhelm any of the state’s plans to respond to such an emergency.
A big focus in the state’s emergency preparedness efforts, he said, is to help “people to take responsibility of taking care of themselves and their families” in the aftermath.
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