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Hurricane Douglas’ near miss highlights North Shore vulnerabilities

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Shannon Fisher walked along the shore at Pounders on the North Shore of Oahu on Sunday morning.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Shannon Fisher walked along the shore at Pounders on the North Shore of Oahu on Sunday morning.

North Shore resident Brandon De la Cruz of Waialua went to Haleiwa Beach Park to see Hurricane Douglas in action.

Instead, he finished the day by raising a glass to what appeared to be another near miss on Oahu.

“I went through Hurricane Iniki when I was pretty young. It was really bad. This would have been my second hurricane if it had hit,” De la Cruz said at about 5:15 p.m. as he watched waves roll in that weren’t any more impressive than a normal winter windup. “I thought it would be much worse than this. I’m kind of surprised.”

>> MORE PHOTOS: North Shore residents prepare for Hurricane Douglas

From the windward side of the North Shore to Haleiwa town, most businesses were closed. However, 7-Eleven and a few other businesses like the Turtle Bay Golf Shop, Fumi’s Kahuku Shrimp Truck and the Coffee Gallery in Haleiwa were open for at least parts of the day. Just like Hurricane Douglas, the Category 1 storm that threatened the state, people were all over the map on Oahu’s North Shore.

Some residents used the calm before the storm to hurriedly fill sandbags, board up windows and dig out streams. People rushed to pack cars to evacuate, but others, much to the frustration of government officials and emergency planners, planned to hunker down to wait it out.

The popular surf spot Pounders was filled with a few dozen locals trying to catch epic waves in the rising surf. A few got out of the water to rush home to secure their potted plants when the emergency sirens started sounding at about 11 a.m. Most people, however, remained unfazed.

Kekai Paulsen spent three to four hours of the morning surfing Pounders and by midafternoon was taking footage of other surfers enjoying his “summer spot.”

Paulsen said the waves were about 3 to 5 feet Hawaii style, which is about 6- to 10-foot faces.

“The surfers will be out here until the storm comes, and will probably return tonight when it’s higher tide,” he said.

Slews of lookie-loos also gathered to see waves pound the rocky shoreline of Laie Point, a popular scenic spot in a residential neighborhood. The spot, where a 1946 tsunami created a puka that formed a sea arch in a rock island, was practically the only North Shore location Sunday where conditions seemed to support the Hurricane Douglas forecasts.

“The waves are usual today,” said Kekela Miller, a fourth-generation Laie resident. “We hope that it won’t be that bad, that everything will be OK, especially since we don’t have a shelter this time that is close by where people can go. We used to have one, but they took it away because they said it was in a flood zone.”

Miller said Brigham Young University-Hawaii opened up a temporary shelter, but it’s in a low-lying area. People who want to get to a shelter outside of a flood zone have to travel as far as Kaneohe or Waialua, she said.

That’s why Jon and Matty Parker, who were spending the summer in Hauula visiting friends, said they began packing up their four kids and belongings late last night.

“We decided to head out once we heard the city buses were stopping at noon,” Jon Parker said around midday Sunday. “We were headed to the car as the sirens started.”

Dotty Kelly-Paddock, who lives with her husband and son on a Hauula hillside, agreed shelter space is needed and said there also needs to be governmental support to shore up the community’s infrastructure, which is vulnerable to the damage that wind, rain and ocean surges can bring.

Kelly-Paddock said her neighbors who live along the ocean edge of Kameha- meha Highway near Pokiwai Bridge spent most of the earlier part of Sunday making sandbags and trying to dig out the sand buildup that clogs the stream. Kelly- Paddock, Hauula Community Association president, said the city had dug out the area Friday, but by Sunday it was already clogged again.

“It wasn’t ready for Hurricane Douglas. We worked so hard today, and then Hurricane Douglas came and it was like nothing happened. We felt so fortunate,” she said. “But it could have been so much worse, and this is just the start of the hurricane season. People were very frightened. They need more support.”

Krista Nielsen, who lives at the end of Hulahula Place, said that during the last decade stormwater has entered her house twice, and at least 10 other times has come within inches of coming inside.

“If they don’t come and dig the stream out before a storm, the neighborhood can’t dig it out fast enough,” Nielsen said. “This is a really big issue for our community. It’s so bad that a lot of people in our community have sold their home after just one storm.”

Kelly-Paddock said the city and state also should help fulfill the community’s decadelong push for a safe shelter within a reasonable driving distance. It was about 10 years ago when the Department of Land and Natural Resources set aside a 5-acre site for the creation of a suitable shelter, she said.

Kelly-Paddock said the project began moving forward again in 2018 when it became part of a city resilience hub package.

She said it got another boost when Honolulu Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi put $2.75 million in the city budget to help with the environmental assessment, design and maybe some of the construction. However, Kelly-Paddock said the funding hasn’t been released yet by Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

“A shelter is imperative. There are 52% of the people here in the poverty level, and they don’t have the money to be going to a hotel or someplace else or doing a lot of traveling,” she said. “I spend most of my time working with the city to get it to acknowledge that there needs to be a shelter here. We’re also pursuing a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) grant and working with private foundations.”

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