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Visitor industry prepares to hunker down

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The Urban Outfitters store along Kalakaua Avenue was prepared Thursday for Hurricane Lane.

As Hurricane Lane, Hawaii’s most unwelcome guest, prepared to unpack dangerous wind and flooding across the state, the visitor industry scrambled to get hospitality workers to their jobs and get some 270,000 tourists back home or safe inside.

While Lane was not projected to directly hit the islands, officials warned that some areas could see up to 30 inches of rain, 20 feet of surf and storm surges of up to 4 feet. Hawaii island, where approximately 37,000 of the state’s visitors were staying, took the first hit. Parts of the island flooded Thursday after it was lashed with up to 20 inches of rain in about 24 hours.

The focus now shifts to Waikiki, where approximately 80 percent of the Oahu’s 126,000 visitors are staying. Heavy rain can cause major sewage spills that pollute the Ala Wai Canal and temporarily shut down Waikiki beaches, as happened in 2006 and 2015. Waikiki’s shoreline, an essentially man-made beach that is home to some of the state’s most expensive hotels, also is vulnerable to beach erosion and high tides.

Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging &Tourism Association, said expected impacts could make it difficult for visitor industry employees to get to work, especially on Oahu, where city bus service stopped at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Monica Salter, Outrigger Enterprises Group spokeswoman, said many of the company’s properties have adjusted work schedules. They’ve also made rooms available for the hotel’s housekeeping and operations staff and for workers who are employed at some of the on-property retail stores and restaurants.

Hotels are encouraging employees and guests to shelter in place.

“We continue to be very concerned that our visitors stay inside and don’t try to do adventurous things right now. We want them to stay away from the ocean, and we don’t want them out hiking or undertaking any unnecessary initiatives,” Hannemann said.

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