comscore When disaster strikes the Hawaii islands
Hawaii News

When disaster strikes the Hawaii islands

Honolulu Star-Advertiser logo
Unlimited access to premium stories for as low as $12.95 /mo.
Get It Now

History proves that natural disasters can strike at any time, and with few buffers between the Islands and surrounding landmasses, Hawaii serves as a prime target for potential destruction.


Emergency: Police, Fire, Ambulance 911
State Civil Defense 733-4300
Department of Emergency Management (Oahu) 723-8960
Hawaii (Big Island) Civil Defense 935-0031
Maui Civil Defense 270-7285
Kauai Civil Defense 241-1800
American Red Cross 734-2101

With its abundance of sun, sand and surf, Hawaii serves as an ideal destination for visitors and kamaaina to live, work and play.

And yet the state’s location in the middle of the Pacific — where calm conditions often lure both residents and tourists into fostering a false sense of security — puts the Islands in the direct path of nature’s fierce wrath.

The warm waters and steady stream of trade winds that normally create Hawaii’s favorable climate can also serve as feeders for tropical storms and hurricanes, which often fester in the surround- ing ocean. The state’s positioning within the volatile Pacific Rim also exposes the island group to unabated tsunamis, as walls of water are spawned by earthquakes around the region. While these natural disasters and others, such as flooding, remain threats of catastrophe, being prepared can help both kamaaina and tourists avoid unnecessary stress and suffering.

History proves that natural disasters can strike at any time, and with few buffers be- tween the Islands and surrounding landmasses, Hawaii serves as a prime target for potential destruction. While the state was fortunate to emerge relatively unscathed following the catastrophic earthquake and resulting tsunami that ravaged Japan two years ago, the same could not be said for residents of Hilo on the Big Island’s eastern shore in 1946. An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 spawned in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands had generated massive walls of water, which caromed into the unsuspecting town and killed 159 people. At the time, many curious bystanders, including school children, ventured into the exposed reef area, unaware that the receding water would soon give way to the tsunami, which are known to travel at speeds up to 500 miles per hour.


American Red Cross, Hawaii State chapter. Lots and lots of great information about survival kits, planning for an emergency, and how to register for Red Cross classes and training on disaster-related topics. You might even become a Red Cross instructor!

American Veterinary Medical Association Disaster Preparedness

State Civil Defense

Hawaii County Civil Defense

Kauai County Civil Defense

Maui County Civil Defense

City and County of Honolulu Department of Emergency Management

Emergency Preparedness

Emergency Preparedness Resources for Maui County Residents

Federal Emergency Management Agency

National Flood Insurance Program

National Weather Service, Honolulu Forecast Office

Pacific Disaster Center

Ready America

From HECO’s "Handbook for Emergency Preparedness."

Hurricanes also serve as potential threats to the state, as the large storms churn over warm Pacific waters, growing in size and strength until eventually breaking apart or, in rare cases, making landfall in the 50th State. Hurricane Iwa was dubbed a Category 1 storm in November 1982, and became the first hurricane to strike Hawaii since the state joined the union in 1959. On Sept. 11, 1992, Hurricane Iniki earned the dubious distinction as the most powerful hurricane to hit Hawaii, as the Category 4 storm passed over Kauai and caused six deaths and $1.8 billion in damage, some of which still remains to this day. The massive storms not only pack punches with strong winds and heavy rain, but the resulting storm surges, or wind-driven waves, are known to cause severe flooding along coastlines.

Hawaii is also known for its hotbed of volcanic activity, as active volcanoes Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Loihi continuously churn up new land on the Big Island’s southeast coast. While the spectacular flowing lava attracts visitors from around the world, the volcanic activity causes thousands of earthquakes each year, many of which prove too small to be noticed. Tectonic earthquakes have resulted in much more damage throughout history, as was the case with a 7.9 magnitude quake in April of 1868, which killed 81 people and destroyed more than 100 homes in Hawaii.

Hawaii’s potential for heavy rains make the Islands rich in lush vegetation and agricultural potential, but can also prove hazardous when flash floods result from severe downpours. Heavy rain quickly saturates the ground, and turns small streams and rivers into unstoppable torrents of water capable of sweeping away anything in their paths. In October, 2004 a flash flood in Manoa Valley made its way through the University of Hawaii’s Hamilton Library, while also damaging 60 surrounding homes. Two years later, a six-week period of steady rain caused flooding across the state, including on

Kauai where the raging water broke the Ka Loko Dam and resulted in the death of seven people.

Sponsored by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, this guide is designed to help readers and their families prepare for the aforementioned disasters through a wealth of helpful information and tips. Taking the time to prepare for the worst can make the vital difference when inevitable disaster strikes.

Hurricane/tropical storm checklist

The key to successfully weathering a hurricane or tropical storm is being prepared. Here is what you should do:

What Is A Hurricane?

A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone, the generic term for a low-pressure system that generally forms in the tropics. A typical cyclone is accompanied by thunderstorms with maximum sustained winds of 74 mph (64 knots) or higher. The hurricane season lasts from June to November, with the peak season from mid-August to late October.

Hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage to coastlines and several hundred miles inland. Winds can exceed 155 mph. Hurricanes and tropical storms can also spawn tornadoes and microbursts, create storm surges along the coast, and cause extensive damage from heavy rainfall.

How Are Hurricane Categories Determined?

Hurricanes are classified into five categories based on their wind speed, central pressure and damage potential (see chart to the right). Category 3 and higher hurricanes are considered major hurricanes, though Categories 1 and 2 are still extremely dangerous and warrant your full attention.

Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale

Scale Number (Category) Sustained Winds (mph) Damage
1 74-95 Minimal: Unanchored mobile homes, vegetation and signs.
2 96-110 Moderate: All mobile homes, roofs, small crafts, flooding.
3 111-129 Extensive: Small buildings, low-lying roads cut off.
4 130-156 Extreme: Roofs destroyed, trees down, roads cut off, mobile homes destroyed. Beach homes flooded.
5 More than 157 Catastrophic: Most buildings destroyed. Vegetation destroyed. Major roads cut off. Homes flooded.

Source: Information gathered from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website.

» Know the warning signals and where shelters are located. See list of public emergency shelters at

» Always have a home survival kit ready.

» Tie down or store all loose objects. Bring all potted plants into the house.

» Remove and store lanai furniture.

» Throw deck furniture into the pool.

» Unplug electric appliances you may not need or use.

» Cover all windows and door openings with boards, shutters or other shielding materials. Permanent storm shutters offer the best protection for windows. A second option is to board up windows with 5/8-inch marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install. Other alternatives include replacing existing glass with impact-resistant glass, and covering existing glass with a protective film. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.

» Wedge sliding glass doors at the top. Wedge a dowel or a piece of broom handle into the track of sliding glass doors to prevent them from coming loose when the wind blows.

» Properly secure propane tanks. Remember that propane tanks should never be stored indoors. Fuel containers, including propane tanks, should never be stored near appliances, gas water heaters, and source of fire. Make sure storage areas are cool, dry and well-ventilated to allow any gas leaks to safely dissipate.

» Assemble insurance documents and place in waterproof containers.

» Secure elevators on the top floor of your condominium.

» Fill up the gas tank of your car.

» Care for pets.

Source: HECO’s "Information Handbook for Emergency Preparedness." Visit for more information.

Comments have been disabled for this story...

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up