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Big Island braces for Madeline


    Jeremy Swartz, FEMA Region IX Logistics Section chief, standing among some of the 66 dieselpowered generators stored at the agency’s Halawa warehouse Tuesday.

Local, state and federal agencies scrambled Tuesday to prepare Hawaii island for Madeline, which remained a powerful hurricane into the night.

Madeline, which was a category 2 hurricane at 5 p.m., diminished to a category 1 hurricane at 8 p.m., with winds dropping to 90 mph from 110 mph, the National Weather Service said.

The storm was headed west and about 275 miles east of Hilo and 475 miles east-southeast of Honolulu. Hurricane-force winds extended 25 miles from the center, and tropical storm-force winds extended 125 miles from the center.

Madeline was expected to gradually weaken and turn to the west-southwest sometime Tuesday night, which should send it just south of South Point today. Madeline was forecast to still be at hurricane strength when it makes its closest pass to Hawaii island, the weather service said.

Hawaii County was under a hurricane warning, and Maui County was under a tropical storm watch.

At 5 p.m., east of Madeline, Lester intensified into a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph, moving west at 13 mph.

Lester was about 1,200 miles east of Hilo and could bring strong wind and rain to the state over Labor Day weekend.

Lester is expected to turn slightly to the west-northwest as it crosses into the Central Pacific over the next two days.

HAWAII County Mayor Billy Kenoi issued an emergency declaration effective 4 p.m. Tuesday. Gov. David Ige signed an emergency proclamation effective 12:01 a.m. today.

Hawaii County, state and federal agencies, utilities and social services providers have been working to coordinate hurricane preparedness on the Big Island, Hawaii County Civil Defense spokeswoman Kanani Aton said.

Hawaii County Civil Defense worked with Community Emergency Response Team and neighborhood watch volunteers to make door-to-door notification Tuesday morning in at-risk Puna communities in flood and high-surf zones.

They included Kapoho Beach Lots, Kapoho Vacationland, Pohoiki, the Hawaiian Paradise Park shoreline community, the Waa Waa Road community, Hawaiian Beaches and Hawaiian Shores (along the shoreline).

“We’re advising the public, if possible, to shelter in place,” Aton said late Tuesday afternoon. “Otherwise, move to emergency shelters that are now open.”

The Department of Parks and Recreation opened 14 shelters (some pet-friendly) at 5 p.m. Tuesday and is working with the Red Cross to ensure staffing.

Federal Emergency Management Administration personnel were preparing Tuesday afternoon to fly some of the 66 generators stored at its Halawa warehouse to Kona.

“We’re going to be strategic in what we’re going to take there should it be needed,” said FEMA Region IX Logistics Section Chief Jeremy Swartz.

The diesel-powered generators produce 36 to 640 kilowatts of power, weigh 3,300 to 31,000 pounds and measure as much as 20 feet long by 9.6 feet high.

FEMA coordinated with the Department of Defense to fly the equipment by military planes and possibly by commercial aircraft Tuesday and possibly Wednesday to Kona Airport, Swartz said.

The generators and other supplies will be kept in a federal staging area at the airport, and will be moved where needed when local and state agencies cannot fill those needs.

Swartz said the generators will be used for public facilities such as hospitals, police and fire stations, water pumping stations and wastewater treatment stations, not for homes.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Executive Officer Toby Clairmont said that during Tropical Storm Iselle two years ago, some FEMA generators were pre-positioned on Hawaii island for use in places such as nursing homes, and at schools used as shelters.

While hospitals are required to have backup generators, nursing homes are not, Clairmont said.

The agencies will also bring in some supplies such as tarps, bottled water and plastic sheeting. Other supplies might include tents and office supplies for field offices.

Hawaii County Civil Defense urged residents to prepare for hurricane-force wind and heavy rain. Officials told residents to restock emergency kits, including a flashlight with fresh batteries, cash, first-aid supplies and any medication.

Arlina Agbayani, also with Emergency Management, said that during Iselle, “tarps were going like hot tamales,” which were needed if roofs were blown off.

She recalled how many Puna residents had to throw away spoiled food from their refrigerators.

“They didn’t realize it was going to be that long” that the power would be out, she said.

Swartz urged residents to prepare. He recommended downloading the FEMA App for mobile devices with weather alerts, preparedness, safety and survival tips, disaster resources and open shelters.

A list of closures and shelters is available online at

All Big Island public schools, charters schools and the University of Hawaii at Hilo are closed today.

All Hawaii County and state offices, facilities and services on the Big Island will be closed today except for the mayor’s office, Civil Defense and essential workers.

Hele-On Bus service is suspended today.

All state and county park facilities, some camping and remote areas of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park are also closed today.

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