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City officials making preparations for incoming storms

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    Nimitz Highway and Alakawa Street were flooded after sudden heavy rain at rush hour.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Saturday morning that the city is making preparations to prevent further sewage spills and ensure the safety of housed and homeless residents and visitors on Oahu before the arrival of Hurricane Ignacio, a category 4 storm that is forecast to start impacting Honolulu early Tuesday. 

“This is our number one job, bar none, is to provide safety to our residents,” Caldwell told a packed room of city agency representatives Saturday morning in the city’s Emergency Operations Center in the basement of the Frank F. Fasi municipal building. 

With the cone of the hurricane’s projected path running along the eastern side of the state, Caldwell said a small shift of the storm could bring tropical storm-force winds to Oahu. Tropical storm-force winds extend about 130 miles from the storm’s center. 

At a press conference following the meeting, Caldwell and other city officials made several announcements: 

>> The city could begin opening shelters by Sunday evening, but a decision will not be made until tomorrow. 

>> No ports on Oahu are being shut down because of the storm yet.

>> The mayor may sign an emergency declaration Sunday. That would allow the city to seek reimbursement of overtime and other costs from the federal government as well as complete a formal step to allow the city to enact evacuations, open shelters, and seek assistance from the state. 

>> Siren testing on Tuesday is canceled to avoid frightening residents expecting the storm. 

>> A decision on whether to close schools will be made on Sunday or Monday. 

>> Beachgoers are urged to listen to lifeguards and not enter the water in dangerous conditions, which could place lifeguards that have to make rescues in danger. 

To prevent sewage spills during heavy rainfall, Caldwell asked residents to stop diverting storm runoff water into the sewage system, either through illegal connections such as from gutters or parking lots, and by keeping manholes closed. 

He said the sewage system does not have a capacity to handle the storm runoff, which has led to sewage spills in the past. 

Anyone who sees sewage coming out of a manhole is urged to call 911 or the city’s sewage trouble line at 768-7272. Melvin Kaku, director of the city’s Department of Emergency Management, asked the public to clean their yards and remove any flying debris in preparation for the storm. 

He asked residents to also look for potential blockages in streams and other parts of the storm drainage system and to call DEM at 723-8960 about any blockages. 

He said streams around the island have been cleared of blockages over the past week following the last storm. 

To prevent further sewage spills, the Department of Environmental Services has ensured there are no construction projects crippling pumping stations, such as in the incident that caused a spill at Ala Moana Beach Park on Monday. 

Caldwell said the city will continue to post notices of the Sept. 8 homeless encampment sweep in Kakaako on Monday. But if Hurricane Jimena, which is about 2,000 miles away from Hawaii, arrives in September, the city will postpone the enforcement during the storm. 

He said the city will provide buses for homeless residents that need to evacuate and will allow homeless with pets onto the bus with certain conditions. 

“We want to make it easy to get to safety,” he said. 

Caldwell said the city will also enforce a recently signed law to remove structures along canals and streams to protect the homeless who may be camping under a bridge. Earlier this week, a woman was washed away by rising storm waters. Her body was yet to be found. 

Jeanne Ishikawa, deputy director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, said the city has trimmed its albizia trees, which caused major damage during a storm on Hawaii island. She said other large albizia trees are probably on private or state property. 

Officials also said the city is working with tourist agencies to ensure visitors are informed of the situation.

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