Navy ships and submarines based in Hawaii — excluding those undergoing maintenance — began an exodus from Pearl Harbor Wednesday as Hurricane Lane, still packing 145 mph winds, swirled ever closer to the state.
Ships that sortied, or exited the danger area, will be positioned to help respond after the storm, if needed, the Navy said.
“Based on the current track of the storm, we made the decision to begin to sortie the Pearl Harbor-based ships,” Rear Adm. Brian Fort, commander of Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, said in a release. “This allows the ships enough time to transit safely out of the path of the storm.”
On Tuesday, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam said it would be “working to sortie ships from the harbor, and aircraft will begin departures.”
The oceanfront Navy and Air Force base remained at Tropical Cyclone Conditions of Readiness 3, indicating that destructive and sustained winds of 50 knots (57 mph) or greater are possible within 48 hours.
More than 66,000 Navy and Air Force active-duty personnel, civilians and family members; 11 ships; 18 nuclear-powered submarines; and six fixed-wing aviation squadrons were stationed at the base as of 2015.
Two batwing B-2 stealth bombers could be seen from Waikiki flying away from Hickam at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Three of the bombers flew in last week from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri for training around Hawaii.
Aircraft stationed at Hickam include F-22 Raptor fighters, C-17 cargo carriers and KC-135 refueling tankers. Some of those planes were flying to the mainland, where they can pick up emergency supplies for the return trip, if necessary.
Air Force 1st Lt. Veronica Perez, a spokesperson for the 15th Wing at Hickam, said she could only confirm “that preparations are under way to coordinate and plan to evacuate the aircraft (from Hickam), but I can’t get into the specifics of where they are going or how many.”
Navy ships will remain at sea until the threat from the storm subsides. Hawaii-based Navy aircraft will be secured in hangars or flown to other airfields to avoid the effects of the hurricane, the service said.
The Navy said it sometimes orders a sortie during potentially extreme weather conditions to reduce the risk of significant damage to ships and piers during high winds and seas.
Some ships will not get underway due to repairs being made, and crews are taking extra precautions to avoid potential damage, the Navy said.
Depending on the severity of the storm, commanding officers can decide to add additional mooring and stormlines, as well as drop the anchor and disconnect shore power cables.
“For residents living on base, be prepared to safely shelter in place; no evacuations are currently planned,” the Navy said Tuesday.
Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, the state’s largest industrial employer with nearly 6,000 civilian and military workers, said it is following the Navy Region Hawaii/Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam lead for storm preparations and the onset of heavy winds.
Spokesman John Whitehouse said that includes “a general cleanup to make sure there’s no debris or anything that’s loose that could become a projectile.”
Whitehouse said Wednesday, “Right now, we’re not looking at sending anyone home” from work, but he added the shipyard is “following the situation.”
The Hawaii National Guard said a request came in from Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim for hurricane support, and about 15 personnel out of the 120 already there for lava duty will be shifted, said Guard spokesman Maj. Jeff Hickman.
“We’re planning to send people to Kona in anticipation of some damage or need for them to do maybe some presence patrols,” Hickman said.
The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl announced that it will be closed Friday and Saturday.
“Cemetery caretakers are making severe weather preparations and will remove flowers from grave sites (Wednesday) and secure the vases to prevent them from scattering or causing damage to the cemetery,” Punchbowl said in a release.
The cemetery said it is scheduled to be open today for interment services, but visitors in general are encouraged to wait until the storm passes and a damage assessment is completed.