The cavernous gymnasium at McKinley High School proved a popular spot for residents seeking shelter ahead of the storm Thursday, with more than 170 people checking in by midafternoon, many of them homeless.
“Having the emergency shelter is a plus,” said Anderson Kahuanui, who uses a wheelchair. “It’s a blessing because otherwise I would be at the beach park. I would have just went with it instead of taking care of my health.”
Altogether, Red Cross volunteers opened 36 evacuation centers across the state, and 825 people had moved in by 6 p.m. as Hurricane Lane headed their way, according to Amy Laurel Hegy, public information officer and local volunteer for the American Red Cross.
Sites such as the McKinley gym offered respite from the elements in the form of a solid building with toilets and health services, but no amenities. Clients should bring their own bedding, food, water, medicine and any documents they want to protect, Hegy said.
She said people are expected to be self-sufficient at pre-storm evacuation centers. After the hurricane hits, officials deploy disaster relief supplies, such as cots, food and water, where they are needed.
“The county will determine whether or not we need continuing shelters, and then they will change from evacuation centers to shelters,” Hegy said. “At that point we start looking at cots and more long-term things while we clear our neighborhoods and do the disaster assessment.”
Folks at McKinley stretched out air mattresses or sleeping bags they had brought with them, lining the floor of the basketball court, which had been covered with a huge beige tarp, families on one side, single men on another.
In the afternoon, Xavier Wilson pulled up near the gym with a fragrant load of 20 large pizzas donated by the Papa John’s pizza parlor on Kapiolani Boulevard, where he works as a delivery driver. The crowd streamed outside to enjoy the unexpected bounty.
“Papa John, thank you!” Kahuanui declared with a broad grin before digging into a slice of sausage pizza.
As wind started to swirl strongly on the west side, 120 people bedded down at the Nanakuli High School Cafeteria. Almost all were relocated from the U.S. Vets Waianae Civic Center, a transitional housing center that is in a flood zone.
Things were quieter earlier in the day at Kalani High School’s cafeteria. Two people had come by seeking shelter but decided the weather wasn’t bad enough, so they returned to their home on the ocean side of Kalanianaole Highway. The site was empty, save for volunteers, at 2 p.m.
Jennifer “Redd” Briggs, a Red Cross volunteer, had flown in from South Carolina the previous night to manage the Kalani site. She has volunteered at many emergencies, but this was her first trip to Hawaii.
“My Red Cross chapter called me and said, ‘We have an opening for a supervisor. Do you want to go to Hawaii?’” Briggs said. “I said, ‘Well, of course I do!’ They said, ‘You know you’ll be riding out the storm.’ I said, ‘That’s a blast. Let’s go!’”
Red Cross volunteers estimated that roughly half of the people who sought shelter at Kapolei High School had no homes of their own. Frank Trigilio, 68, a former police officer now living in transitional housing at Kalaeloa, expressed gratitude for the volunteers.
“They went out of their way to leave their families and come to accommodate us,” Trigilio said. “That’s real special.”