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Hawaii County ready if mass evacuation is required

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HILO >> Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim told emergency workers this morning that the county is preparing for a “very, very worst scenario” of a mass evacuation of coastal areas on the entire west side of the island from North Kohala to South Kona if necessary to cope with the threat from the approach of powerful Hurricane Lane.

The latest data suggests there is as much as a 20 percent possibility of winds of up to 73 mph in areas from North Kona to Kau, and a lower probability of hurricane force winds of 74 mph or greater within the same area, according to county civil defense officials.

Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said county officials are also alarmed at the potential for storm surge of two to four feet on the southeast and west sides of the island that could inundate low-lying areas, and also the extremely heavy rainfall and flooding that Hurricane Lane could generate.

County officials have already sealed off access into South Point and threatened areas such as Whittington Beach Park, and all beaches on the island are closed, Kim said. Public schools are also closed today and non-essential state employees have been told to stay home, but county workers are on the job.

“We’re kind of hopeful but we’re still not out of the woods,” so county officials are preparing for the worst, Magno said told emergency workers at a morning briefing today.

“That’s what we’re doing now,” Kim said. “Our worst-case scenario is mass evacuation because our job is to plan for the worst case scenario and hope for the best case scenario.”

“Remember the code of how we operate,” Kim told the group of about 75 emergency workers at the morning briefing. “It’s not to go chase the eight ball, we’re supposed to be ahead of the eight ball. If we get criticized that we evacuated, and we secured for nothing, hey, I’ll take that any day” rather than have residents exposed and unprepared.

The morning meeting was briefly interrupted while staff presented Kim with a cake and candles to celebrate his 79th birthday today, and Kim joked he had been sent a hurricane “to blow out the candles.”

Staff with the county Department of Public Works have “checked and re-checked” dry wells and culverts across the island to prepare for a deluge of rainfall from Lane, Kim said. The county has also established a second emergency command post at the West Hawaii Civic Center in Kailua-Kona.

“I’ve never seen anything like this except possibly (Hurricane) Iniki,” Kim told the group, referring to a hurricane that devastated Kauai in 1992. “So, I need us on full alert on the job for the next 48 hours, and we’ll see what happens.”

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