As Tropical Storm Olivia made its way to the islands Tuesday, the focus turned mostly away from the Big Island and more toward Maui as it appeared the worst effects of the cyclone would be felt well to the north of Hilo.
The storm was expected to either make landfall in Hawaii or come its closest to land either Tuesday night or early this morning.
Gov. David Ige on Tuesday formally requested President Donald Trump to declare the state of Hawaii a major disaster in the event that heavy rains and wind from Olivia cause significant damage and losses. He had issued his own statewide disaster proclamation over the weekend.
The governor is asking for direct federal support from Department of Defense assets for strategic airlifts between the islands, temporary power generation at evacuation centers, technical assistance related to points of distribution, and debris management action planning.
In addition, the governor is asking for immediate access to federal resources for search and rescue, potential medical evacuations, mass care and sheltering commodities, and additional temporary power generation capabilities.
On the Big Island, Hawaii County Civil Defense placed sand piles at numerous locations around the island Tuesday so residents concerned about possible flooding could fill their own sandbags.
Chris Sato and her brother, Jared Kimoto, were at one of the locations, Shultz Siding in Hilo, filling 20 burlap bags they bought from Hilo Surplus Store with sand.
During Hurricane Lane’s downpours, Sato said they were up all night attempting to ward off flooding at their rented Panaewa home.
“We’re really not taking our chances this time,” Sato said. “We were fortunate the last time. We called Civil Defense and they had the Department of Transportation bring us some sandbags, but the amount of water that was coming down, there was no way of really stopping the water.”
Sato said 10 sandbags were brought to them during the late-night hours.
“We had sandbags, but it wasn’t enough to stop all the water, so we literally had to take out our comforters, our body pillows — we even filled reusable bags with cat litter,” she said. “Our carpet got wet, but we literally stood out there and swept like we were paddling a canoe so the water wouldn’t get in — brooms and buckets.
“We literally made sure that the water wouldn’t come past the door. There were three of us out at, like, about 4 in the morning that day. It was one of those nights when you couldn’t go to sleep. If we had let it go and, like, went to sleep, then the water would definitely just make it into the room.”
Sato said a carpet got wet, but it could’ve been worse. She added she attempted to obtain flood insurance, but to no avail.
“I learned, after being on the phone with GEICO … that basically, since we’re not the homeowners, we can’t have flood insurance. We have renter’s insurance, but it won’t cover flood damage,” she said.
It was not the first time Sato has experienced flooding. She said she was living in a basement apartment in an aunt’s home in Waiakea Uka during the historic flood of Nov. 1 and 2, 2000, caused by an upper-level low and the remnants of Tropical Storm Paul, a weak and short-lived tropical cyclone. That storm caused an estimated $70 million in damage.
“I came home that morning, and the water was way past my bed. I literally lost everything,” Sato said. “Once the water gets in, there’s no stopping it. Luckily, at that time, Red Cross helped out with some replacement items, but your personal pictures and your things from school and stuff, those are things you can never really get back.”
Those wishing to fill sandbags can find the sand pile locations on the Hawaii County Civil Defense website.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the center of Olivia was 100 miles northeast of Hilo, packing maximum sustained winds of 50 mph and moving to the west at 15 mph.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.