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Big Island ‘far from out of the woods’ despite weakening Madeline

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON / TRIBUNE-HERALD

    Crispin Nakoa, left, Kaeo Awana, Aimee Sato, Vanessa Aguirre and Devin Horswill watch the waves roll in as Hurricane Madeline approaches the Big Island today at Honolii Beach Park.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Workers boarded up the windows of a store in Hilo as Hurricane Madeline approached the Big Island today. The National Weather Service discontinued its hurricane warning for the island as the weakening Madeline approached the southern portion of the Big Island this morning.

HILO >> Big Island residents mostly seemed to be laying low and making final arrangements to secure their homes as they watched news bulletins to try to calculate the risks ahead from the twin impacts from Tropical Storm Madeline and Hurricane Lester.

Sporadic power outages have been reported as Madeline started its brush south of the island.

The National Weather Service discontinued its hurricane warning for the island this morning as the weakening Madeline approached the southern portion of the Big Island, but at 2 p.m. Madeline was still packing sustained winds of 70 mph, with some higher gusts. The center of the storm was about 80 miles southeast of South Point.

Interim Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Ed Teixeira cautioned residents that Madeline is still a powerful storm.

“The winds will continue to pick up. If we’re lucky, if Madeline stays on its current track right now, which puts the track right off of our coastline heading out toward South Point we’re going to be seeing the effects of strong tropical storm force winds like we saw in (Tropical Storm) Iselle two years ago,” he said. “We’re also subjected to high surf on east-facing shores up to about 25 feet, which can cause coastal flooding.”

Parts of the island can also expect “hard, hard rain” of up to 10 inches in a 24-hour period, and that means the risk of flooding, mudslides and potentially dangerous ponding on roadways, he said.

“We are far from out of the woods,” Teixeira said. The county is encouraging people to “shelter in place” as much as possible to minimize traffic on the roads. “We want to urge our residents to please kokua, take care of one another and stay safe, and let’s get through this thing as fast as we can, because from this we’ve got to then switch our attention to Lester and what Lester may do.”

Hurricane Lester, a Category 4 storm, entered the Central Pacific today on a path that could take it just north of the island chain, starting with the Big Island, late this week as a weak hurricane.

In Kapoho, Madeline’s storm surge combined with the 3 p.m. high tide sent waves of water across the road around the Vacationland subdivision, temporarily blocking access to about 50 homes, said Jim Lehner, who is a member of the community neighborhood watch. Anyone wanting to get to those homes would need to wade through water or use a kayak, he said.

‘The whole waterfront is flooded by four or five feet of water anyway, and all the houses down there are inaccessible,” said Lehner, adding that most residents have left the area. “It’s not a real good thing.”

Most of the homes were built on stilts to protect them from flooding, but “there’s going to be damage such as fences and walls and things like that torn down because of water rushing through and carrying all the fences out again,” he said. The surge also dumped boulders in the roadway, Lehner said.

County Department of Public Works officials closed Kamehameha Highway because of flooding from rain runoff, and also planned to close Bayfront Highway because of dangerously high surf conditions. The state Department of Transportation also closed the Umauma Bridge under construction on the Hamakua Coast as a precaution.

Hawaii Electric Light Co. had power outages throughout the day because of downed lines and some tree branches that interfered with power lines. An electrical transmission line between Pahala and Discovery Harbor in Kau was also knocked out at about 3 p.m.

As of 1:30 p.m., about 235 customers in Honoka‘a, Kohala, South Hilo, Mountain View, Kurtistown, and Hawaiian Paradise Park were without power, according to Helco spokeswoman Rhea Lee-Moku.

Lee-Moku said an estimated 3,600 customers had power interruptions earlier today but crews were able to restore service. However further power restoration will be delayed until daylight to ensure the safety of our crews, she said.

“We won’t send employees into areas where trees are falling or when lightning, wind, heavy rain or darkness make it unsafe to work,” Lee-Moku said. “The large albizia trees, which are prone to breaking and falling especially during storm conditions, pose a serious threat to our personnel. It is much safer to manage this hazard during daylight hours especially during inclement weather.”

Some Downtown Hilo businesses boarded up their windows, and about 175 residents around the island checked in at public emergency shelters that opened Tuesday night. The busiest shelters were at the neighborhood high schools in Pahoa and Keaau, where about 140 people had sought refuge by mid-afternoon.

With public schools and most state and county offices closed, traffic in East Hawaii was unusually light. The county bus system shut down Wednesday morning in anticipation of Madeline’s anticipated passage just south of the Big Island this afternoon or evening.

Pahala resident Michael Worthington said shortly before 3 p.m. the weather in his neighborhood had been windy for the previous four hours, but there was little rain.

“A few gusts coming through, a little bit scary, but just get away from the tall trees,” he said. “I lost a tree limb in my neighbor’s yard, so I have to go clean that up.”

“It’s getting a little bit darker right now, a little more overcast,” he said shortly before 3 p.m.

Aaron Bryant, 29, decided he was better off taking shelter at the Hilo High School Gymnasium today than trying to ride out the impacts from Madeline in his one-room cabin in Kalapana.

Bryant said he had never been through a hurricane warning before. When he put his girlfriend on a flight for a mainland trip last night, she advised him to “find somewhere safe.” He decided not to return to Puna with Madeline rapidly approaching, in part because his Kalapana cabin has screens but no windows.

“You just roll to the next moment, it’s kind of a lot of things at once,” Bryant said. He checked into the Hilo shelter with snacks to watch and wait.

Madeline also complicated Ed Miner’s plans to travel to Kahului on Thursday for a stock car race called “King of the Dirt” on Friday and Saturday night. As the hurricane approached the Big Island, Miner worried he had chosen a bad time to fly interisland.

Miner’s travel plans had him leaving right after Madeline passed by, and returning Sunday as Lester was expected to reach the Big Island. Those didn’t seem like good times for air travel, and Miner also worried about his pets and his rented Puna home a few blocks from the ocean.

“It was pretty nasty here this morning when I got up at 4:30 or 5 o’clock in the morning, and we’re close enough to the ocean that we can actually hear the waves crashing on the rocks,” said Miner, 60. “We must have had 30 or 40 mph gusts this morning with the rain coming down sideways.”

Miner lived in Hawaiian Paradise Park in 2014 when Tropical Storm Iselle knocked over albizia trees and downed power lines across Puna, leaving Miner with no electricity for 10 days and no telephone service for a month.

“Just like everybody else, we’re on pins and needles, just knowing that anything’s possible,” he said. “I guess we’ll find out tonight.”

Fire officials said there were isolated reports of downed power lines across the island throughout the day, and the rain gauge at Miner’s house measured two inches of rainfall in the eight hours that ended at about 2 p.m. However, in the end Miner opted to take his Maui trip after all because was too expensive to change his travel plans.

“I’ve got no choice,” he said “We’re all in.”

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