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City officials urge Oahu residents to prepare for the coming storm

City officials today urged Oahu residents to at least start planning as if there will be a storm event this weekend.

“The 11 a.m (National Weather Service) forecast shows that as it stands right now, there is a 21% chance that sometime Sunday evening, we’re going to be impacted by tropical storm force winds, storm surge and flooding rain,” said John Cummings, public information officer for the Department of Emergency Management. “Hopefully not, but that’s what we’re looking at right now. Plus a lot of the guidance models are in concurrence which is not good.”

Honolulu’s Emergency Operations Center is scheduled to open up for business sometime Friday, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said. The center will coordinate the efforts of first-respond and disaster assistance agencies on the island including police, fire, paramedic and lifeguard services.

Up to 20 shelters may be set up throughout the island depending on the severity of the storm. That’s more than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic and the need for greater spacing, the mayor said. “We need a lot more space for every individual and every family. We’re going to need to practice physical distancing within that shelter space.”

That will also mean the need more volunteers to staff the shelters, Caldwell said.

Cummings said people should try to shelter in place, or the residence of a relative or friend, as their first options before considering heading to a shelter.

“If you live in a newly constructed home, built … after 2006, structurally, up to Building Code, you are pretty good to go,” Cummings said. “In that case, you can look at sheltering in place … in a safer, interior room of the house.”

Cummings said his own father’s home does not have that kind of protection. “He’s sheltering with us, in our newer home,” he said.

While discussions have been held about using for storm shelter some of the Oahu hotel rooms vacant because of the pandemic, it does not appear that plan will be ready by the weekend due to logistical issues involving agencies at the federal, state and city levels, Caldwell said.

Those with no place else to go, and live on or near the shoreline where there may be coastal inundation, or in an area prone to severe flooding or high winds, should go to a public shelter, Cummings said. Due to the pandemic, those using the shelters should expect “a wellness check.”

Folks showing up and displaying symptoms associated with the coronavirus will be isolated in areas away from others at the shelter, he said.

Crews from the Department of Facility Maintenance are clearing storm drains and streams. Officials with the Department of Design and Construction are visiting all city construction sites to ensure they are locking down for the weekend, Caldwell said.

Caldwell stressed that with this storm, preparation needs to include ensuring that individual households have enough face coverings and other items related to warding off COVID-19.

“You need to a 14-day supply kit of pandemic-related things,” Caldwell said. “A sufficient number of face coverings because you may not be able to wash your face masks. You need to have sufficient hand sanitizer because there may not be water so you can wash your hands while you eat your food. And you may want to get Clorox Wipes to help with that and to help with wiping down surfaces. And of course you need all the medical supplies to get you through the 14 days. Now is the time to do this, not on Sunday morning.”

The city attempted to create an “Oahu Strong” card to help the needy to obtain necessary food and liquid at supermarkets but that won’t be available in time to help residents get ready for this weekend, Caldwell said. Money was to come from approximately $290,000 raised by the construction industry to help affected by the pandemic as well as other needs.

“We’re close but we’re not there yet,” he said.

Instead, he urged people to look out for those relatives and friends in need financial or other types of assistance. “For those you may know who can’t get afford to get 14 days of food, perhaps you could offer to help,” the mayor said. “Perhaps you can go to Costco for them and purchase food. It’s time for us to look at ourselves as one big ohana helping out each other.”

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