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As Hurricane Lane approaches the Hawaiian islands, the mayor of Honolulu is urging residents who live in high-risk areas to seek safety in one of 20 designated shelters.
The Oahu shelters — all located at state Department of Education public schools — will open to the public at 10 a.m. Thursday. They can accommodate pets but won’t offer emergency supplies for evacuees, who were reminded to bring their own food, water and other emergency supplies.
City officials are urging residents of Oahu to use these shelters as a last resort: for instance, if they live in low-lying, flood-prone areas, along exposed ridge lines, in older homes with wood frames or a single wall construction, or in homes constructed prior to 1995 that have not been retrofitted to withstand strong winds.
“Operating procedure is to shelter in place unless folks feel threatened,” said Andrew Pereira, communications director for Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
Oahu is now under a hurricane warning, with tropical storm conditions expected to show late Thursday evening, and hurricane conditions by Friday, according to the National Weather Service. The Big Island and Maui, which lie east of Oahu, could expect to see hurricane-force winds by Thursday afternoon or evening.
On Oahu, home to approximately 950,000 residents, the 20 designated shelters have a total capacity of 55,000, according to John M. Cummings, spokesman for the Department of Emergency Management for City and County of Honolulu.
City officials base that estimate on 10 square feet per person.
“This is essentially standing room only,” said Hiro Toiya, deputy director of the Department of Emergency Management, at a press conference Wednesday.
The DOE schools are not designed or hardened to withstand winds greater than a tropical storm, or 39 mph, but are still a “safer option” than remaining in high-risk areas, said Toiya. Current estimates show Lane to be a Category 4, with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph.
“Some of these folks may need to evacuate,” Toiya said, advising residents to relocate to shelters or stay with friends or family in safer areas.
On the west side of Big Island, the four DOE schools that have been designated as shelters — Hookena Elementary, Kamehameha Park Hisaoka Gym, Kealakehe High and Waikoloa Elementary & Middle — have a total capacity to hold 6,775, according to Maurice Messina, deputy director of Parks and Recreation for the island.
Maui County also opened seven designated shelters on Wednesday.
The Hawaii Department of Education comprises 256 schools statewide. Oahu alone has roughly 120 public schools that have been identified as potential shelters, but it’s up to county officials to determine which ones to activate in the event of an emergency, according to Dann Carlson, DOE’s assistant superintendent in the Office of School Facilities and Support Services.
“For a public school to be designated as a potential emergency shelter, it is jointly inspected by (Hawaii Emergency Management Agency) and Hawaii DOE personnel, including structural engineers,” he said. “Within each school, individual classrooms and rooms are delineated as shelter spaces. HI-EMA takes the lead on this; we grant them access to our schools as needed.”
There is no immediate plan to expand the number of shelters on Oahu, according to Cummings, of the Honolulu emergency management agency.
“We hope we don’t have to,” he said. The existing sites were chosen based on their capacity, the demographics of that area, including the number of elderly, and whether they are located in areas that might see a greater chance of coastal flooding.
The DOE announced the closure of all 256 public schools statewide for the rest of the week. Additionally, all 36 public charter schools in Hawaii will be closed.
“The safety of our students and staff remains our top priority as we prepare to weather this storm,” said Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami in a press release.
The 20 Oahu designated shelters are as follows:
• Central Oahu: Aiea High, Leilehua High, Radford High, Waialua High & Intermediate
• Honolulu District: Dole Middle, Farrington High, Kaimuki Middle, Kaiser High, Kalani High, McKinley High, Stevenson Middle
• Leeward Oahu: Campbell High, Kapolei High, Leihoku Elementary, Nanakuli High and Intermediate, Pearl City High, Waipahu High
• Windward side: BYU Hawaii, Castle High, Waimanalo Elementary & Intermediate School
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