Get ready, Hawaii.
That’s the overarching message from state and county officials as Hurricane Douglas, which became a major Category 4 storm Thursday, continued strengthening on its path toward the Hawaiian Islands overnight.
At 5 p.m., Douglas was about 1,125 miles east- southeast of Hilo with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph and traveling west-northwest at 18 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Douglas is forecast to be near hurricane strength when it approaches the isles Saturday night, the center said.
Forecasters from the National Weather Service warned of a “triple threat of hazards” to the state, including but not limited to damaging winds, flooding rainfall and dangerously rough seas that could result in damaging surf, especially along east-facing shores.
Watches could be required for portions of the state today, with impacts potentially beginning as early as Saturday night.
Forecasters still do not know what parts of the isles will be affected most. Everyone in the state should have emergency plans in place, along with a 14-day supply kit ready before Saturday night.
Gov. David Ige on Thursday issued a pre-landfall emergency proclamation, authorizing the expenditure of state funds for the efficient relief of disaster-related damage, losses and suffering that could result from the storm. The relief period begins immediately and continues through July 31.
Hawaii’s congressional delegation also urged President Donald Trump to provide federal assistance before Douglas’ landfall to ease the strain of a state already grappling with a pandemic.
“With the time remaining before the forecasted landfall, we can take steps that will improve outcomes for Hawaii residents,” wrote the delegation. “Close coordination among federal, state, and county officials will make it possible to have supplies, personnel, and plans in place for Hurricane Douglas. Federal support is especially critical at this juncture because so many state and county emergency management and response personnel are already committed to the COVID pandemic.”
Although no specific amounts are stated, U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and U.S. Reps. Ed Case and Tulsi Gabbard outlined specific requests for personal protective equipment, medical support, food, water, additional shelter facilities, personnel and expertise to keep residents safe.
Various counties across Hawaii, meanwhile, are preparing shelters for hurricane evacuees, but with the additional pressure of complying with COVID-19 guidelines.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said due to physical distancing requirements, much more space will be required — about 60 square feet per person — and therefore, more shelter space will be needed, and more volunteers to staff the shelters.
The standard requirement for shelters is generally 10 square feet per person.
An updated list of shelters for Oahu is expected to be released today, according to city Department of Emergency Management spokesman John Cummings, and will be posted on hnl.info.
He said the city, along with the American Red Cross, is working to make shelters as safe as possible. Those planning to go to shelters should expect medical wellness checks, he said, and bring additional supplies.
“Your 14-day kit has to include additional masks, maybe three or four per person in case you’re there for a few days, and hand sanitizer if you cannot appropriately wash your hands,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to ensure the shelters, when available, are as safe as possible given the pandemic we’re in right now.”
The city’s “Kalakaua Open Street” event this Sunday has been canceled.
Diane Peters-Nguyen, CEO of American Red Cross, Pacific Islands Region, said the nonprofit has been working with government officials to coordinate the opening of the shelters.
Due to COVID-19, there will be temperature checks for all staff, volunteers and residents entering the shelters. In addition, all persons at the shelter will be required to wear face coverings. Those who do not bring a mask, however, will be provided with one.
Sufficient supplies should be available for volunteer shelter workers, but the Red Cross welcomes donations from the community.
If any person at a shelter exhibits symptoms, she said, they will be quarantined in a separate room in order to minimize exposure to others, and receive care from a health professional.
A major challenge the nonprofit is facing is a dramatic, 70% drop in volunteers this year, she said. Many are retirees who are at high risk of contracting the new coronavirus, while others might have underlying health conditions or have other reasons to stay home this year.
“We understand this is an unusual time,” said Peters-Nguyen. “We want to make sure all our volunteers are comfortable. We always say make sure you and your family are safe first.”
The highest needs are for shelter volunteers, she said, including on-site supervisors and health service providers.
“We’re hoping this ends up being a good dry run and not the real thing, but we have to take it seriously and be prepared,” she said.
Residents are urged to shelter in place at home as a first choice, city officials said. If that is not possible, sheltering with extended family or friends is a second choice, followed by going to a city-operated shelter as a last resort.
During Hurricane Lane in 2018, the city opened about 15 shelters, accommodating about 1,000.
Caldwell said initiatives, such as a pre-loaded “Oahu Strong” card to help families purchase 14 days of food and supplies, will not be ready by this weekend. The city has also been in discussions with the Federal Emergency Management Agency about the use of hotels rooms for sheltering needs, but that will likely not happen in time for Hurricane Douglas.
Hawaiian Electric said it is proactively preparing to respond to the impacts of Douglas, and also offered tips on preparing homes for the hurricane.
Honolulu’s Emergency Operations Center is scheduled to open sometime today. A team of hurricane hunters will be deployed this evening, NWS said, to collect data on Douglas.