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Evacuees begin filing into Hilo shelters

By Dan Nakaso

LAST UPDATED: 3:41 p.m. HST, Aug 7, 2014

HILO >> American Red Cross officials said they were busy checking in evacuees from around the Hilo area Thursday afternoon.

With a mix of trepidation and bravado, Hawaii island tourists and residents were spending Thursday preparing for Iselle, which is on target for a direct hit this evening on the east side of the island.

By midday, rain was coming down hard in Hilo, however the strong sustained winds had yet to arrive.

At Waiakea High School, American Red Cross officials said they were busy checking in an unknown number of evacuees from around the Hilo area.

Vella Meneky, of Hilo, checked in after being evacuated from Uncle Billy's Hilo Bay Hotel where she, her daughter, sister and grandfather had checked into to ride out Hurricane Iselle Thursday.

"Our house is old," Meneky said. "We thought we would be safer until they told us to evacuate."

Lori Logan, her husband, Kevin, and their 10-year-old dog, D.O.G., had just moved to Hilo five weeks ago from Colorado Springs to be near their daughter, Chaylyn.

While Chayln was in Massachusetts Thursday, Lori, Kevin and D.O.G. were forced to evacuate their rental home to Waiakea High School when a police officer drove through their neighborhood near Hilo Bay around 11 a.m. Thursday, telling everyone to evacuate.

Lori read a book at Waiakea, with D.O.G. near her side, and was non-plussed at the prospect of facing her first hurricane.

"I don't think it's going to be real bad," she said.

Brandon Watts and his girlfriend, Brittany Bates, both of San Francisco, had been camping on Hawaii island when they decided it would be safer to check into the Hilo Seaside Hotel Thursday morning.

"We're hoping this hotel will be safe enough," Watts said, as he read the hotel lobby's evacuation plan, which was sitting on an easel and called for people to evacuate to Waiakea High School's gym in an emergency. "We did not plan for either a hurricane or a hotel."

Watts and Bates requested a room that was centrally located in the hotel and away from Hilo Bay.

But just before noon management decided to evacuate the bay-side hotel.

Rochelle Kawagawa, manager of the Hilo Seaside, said the hotel is in a low-lying area of Hilo and was evacuating its 130 rooms and 35 employees as a precaution. "It's just for the safety of everyone," she said.

The hotel's lobby windows were covered in plywood and the restaurant closed early Thursday.

Hotel guests Vassily Gnedovsky and his wife and daughter from St. Petersburg, Russia were checking out because of Hurricane Iselle. "We are moving to Kona right now, where hopefully we'll be safe," Gnedovsky said.

Dublin, Ireland, college students Jessie Hayden, Andree Lebrun and Clodah Cogley were pumping the hotel's vending machine of snacks because they had no food and no way to get to the evacuation center at Waiakea High School. So they were going to rely on the hotel's shuttle to get to safety.

"We were told to just get out of the room quick," Hayden said. "We chose the wrong time to come here."

But Ken's House of Pancakes, nearby on Mamalahoa Highway, planned to stay open and ride out any danger.

The restaurant will stay open 24 hours, as usual, "until we're told otherwise," said hostess Rachel Akui, of Hilo.

"We're Hilo," Akui said. "My boss said we are here to serve the community."

If Iselle strikes, Akui said she and her "immediate family" of 30 or so people plan to head to the hills above Volcano and stay at a cousin's large home.

"We're tough," she said. "But if it hits, you want to head for the hills."

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