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Maui, Hawaii counties preparing for Hurricane Douglas

                                Three visitors survey Hilo’s flooded Bayfront as Hurricane Lane dumped over 30 inches of rain on Aug. 24, 2018.


    Three visitors survey Hilo’s flooded Bayfront as Hurricane Lane dumped over 30 inches of rain on Aug. 24, 2018.

County officials on Maui and Hawaii island are preparing to take the brunt of Hurricane Douglas, based on forecast models Thursday showing the storm tracking directly over the eastern end of the island chain.

Although much can change in the coming days, Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said it appears any high winds and rain from Douglas will most affect the eastern portion of the island and the Hamakua Coast. He said county departments are well into their preparations, including providing piles of sand available from noon today for residents to bring bags and shovels to make sandbags to protect their property.

In anticipation of the hurricane, the county will close Waipio Valley from 7 a.m. Saturday until further notice, with special-duty officers and Waipio Valley rangers stationed at the top of the road to limit access to local traffic only.

Shelters have been designated around the island, Magno said, adding that residents typically prefer to shelter in place.

“We are working through the process right now, and everybody’s been through it before,” he said. “For the most part we have enough time that we’ll have preparations and staffing in place. We’re just trying to remind people to have their families taken care of.”

With one-sixth of the usual space available at American Red Cross shelters due to physical distancing necessitated by COVID-19, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said Thursday the county is talking with hotels about taking in evacuees if needed.

Speaking during his daily briefing, Victorino noted the county’s new $21 million South Maui gym that opened in December was built to serve as an emergency shelter and can withstand Category 3 hurricane winds of 129 mph. Officials also are looking at the new athletic center at Maui Preparatory Academy in Napili as a potential shelter.

Still, the mayor said, with shelter space limited, it’s important for folks who live in sturdy structures safe from the hazards of high wind, rain, flooding and ocean surges to stay at home or with friends and family who can provide a secure place to wait out the hurricane.

But if in doubt or not confident about being protected from the storm’s impacts, “come to a Red Cross shelter,” Victorino said.

Gordon Gillis of the American Red Cross on Maui said shelters, typically schools, have been identified for seven regions in the county, with backup locations ready to accept any overflow crowds.

In the meantime, Victorino said, public works and parks crews have been clearing culverts and storm drains in areas susceptible to flooding, and arrangements were being made to shelter the homeless.

With stores once again experiencing long lines as residents stock up on essentials with the storm’s approach, Victorino discouraged the same kind of panic buying seen in the first weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Let’s be prepared but let’s not hoard, ladies and gentlemen.”

Residents of Maui and Hawaii counties have reason to fear Hurricane Douglas after a series of weather-related disasters over the past two years.

In late August 2018, Category 5 Hurricane Lane dumped a record-breaking 40-plus inches of rain on the east side of Hawaii island, where flooding affected over 100 homes. On Maui, 79 homes suffered damage, including 22 that were consumed by a wind-whipped wildfire on the hills above Lahaina.

Maui County sustained further damage in September 2018 when Tropical Storm Olivia made double landfall, destroying or damaging 20 homes in the Waihee River basin, Honokohau Stream and Napili.

The 2019 hurricane season was relatively quiet by comparison, with five tropical cyclones in the Central Pacific, all dissipating before reaching the Hawaiian Islands. However, Tropical Cyclone Barbara in early July generated high surf along east- facing shores of the state and heavy rain across Maui and Hawaii counties. Tropical Cyclone Erick in early August brought heavy rain over Hawaii island and Kauai.

This past May, NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center and Climate Prediction Center forecast a 75% chance of near- or below-normal tropical cyclone activity during the 2020 Central Pacific hurricane season. For the season as a whole, two to six tropical cyclones were predicted, including tropical depressions, named storms and hurricanes.

A near-normal season has four or five tropical cyclones. The hurricane season begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

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