HILO >> Hilo, Puna and other windward districts were soaked with heavy rain throughout Wednesday as Hurricane Lane approached, and county officials announced non-essential government operations will close today in anticipation of more severe weather.
The county opened five emergency shelters in West Hawaii on Wednesday, but there were few takers. Civil Defense officials reported just two people had checked into shelters by early evening Wednesday.
Civil Defense officials also reported a handful of road closures due to flooding, including East Kawailani Street and Kukila Street in Hilo, and Pohaku Street in Puna, but said there were no reports of major damage.
Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim told emergency workers Wednesday morning 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 Hurricane Lane.
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Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said county officials are concerned about the potential for storm surge of 2 to 4 feet on the southeast and west sides of the island that could inundate low-lying areas. Also a concern is the extremely heavy rainfall and flooding that Hurricane Lane could generate.
County officials sealed off access into South Point and Whittington Beach Park earlier in the week, and all beaches on the island are now 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 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 Wednesday 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 when staff presented Kim with a cake and candles to celebrate his 79th birthday, and Kim joked he had been sent a hurricane “to blow out the candles.”
All non-emergency county operations will be closed today, including landfills, to prepare for severe weather from Hurricane Lane, county officials announced. Normal county operations are expected to resume Friday.
Shelter locations include Hookena Elementary School, Kamehameha Park Hisaoka Gym, Kealakehe High School, Waikoloa Elementary & Middle School and Konawaena High School.
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 also has 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.”