A state of emergency was declared late Tuesday by Hawaii County Managing Director Wil Okabe due to the threat of Hurricane Hector.
The state of emergency will continue for 60 days or until further action is taken by the county.
Okabe, acting as mayor, made the declaration as Hector started its final approach toward the Big Island.
At 5 p.m. Tuesday, the center of Hector was about 360 miles east-southeast of Hilo, packing maximum sustained winds of 130 mph with higher gusts, and moving to the west at 16 mph.
Hurricane force winds extended outward up to 40 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extended outward up to 115 miles from the center of the storm, which was described by National Weather Service meteorologist Deanna Marks as “compact but strong.”
Hector is forecast to pass between 100 and 150 miles south of the Big Island sometime during the day today.
The 5 p.m. bulletin from the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said the “far northern fringes of the hurricane will brush the Big Island” today.
A high surf warning is in effect for east-facing shores of the Big Island until at least 6 p.m. today. The National Weather Service said swells, exacerbated by the extreme high tides known as “king tides,” could be “large and dangerous.”
The U.S. Coast Guard closed the Big Island’s two major harbors Tuesday, the Port of Hilo and Port of Kawaihae, to inbound traffic.
“We will not be complacent as storm tracks may shift and we can expect some severe winds,” said Capt. Michael Long, captain of the Port of Honolulu. “The residents of the main Hawaiian Islands are dependent on the ports. I am committed to ensuring the safety of commerce and seeing the ports return to our seasonal readiness status as soon as is practical to do so.”
While Civil Defense officials advised residents to make sure they have a well-stocked emergency kit on hand, it appeared Hilo shoppers were unconcerned by the approaching hurricane.
While KTA Super Stores, Safeway, Walmart, Target and Longs Drugs appeared to be selling bottled water and paper products slightly faster than usual Tuesday, stores seemed no more crowded than normal.
One employee of Hilo Ace Hardware said few shoppers seemed to be preparing for disaster, aside from a handful of customers looking for batteries and flashlights. The employee said she expected more people would buy supplies after the storm passes to fix whatever damage it causes.
Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the Disaster Recovery Center at the Pahoa Community Center is closed today, and they’ll evaluate conditions Thursday morning to determine if it is safe to reopen.
The County Clerk also is closing absentee walk-in voting sites at the Pahoa Community Center and the Pahala Community Center today because of the possible storm threat and, if conditions warrant, on Thursday, as well.
All other absentee walk-in voting sites are open, subject to weather conditions.
Thursday is the final day of absentee walk-in voting, and primary election day is Saturday.
Whittington, Punaluu and Milolii beach parks are temporarily closed. All pavilion and camping permits through Friday are canceled.
In addition, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed its Kahuku Unit in Ka‘u, about an hour south of the main park entrance. The closure could continue Thursday should conditions warrant, park officials said.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife also closed the Waimanu valley campground and Ainapo cabin through today. All existing camping reservations will be canceled and refunded
Forecasters in Hawaii also are keeping an eye on two tropical cyclones that are still far away in the Eastern Pacific off the coast of Baja California, Mexico.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, Hurricane John was a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, while Tropical Storm Kristy had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, but is expected to intensify into a hurricane.
The former Tropical Storm Ileana dissipated and will not affect Hawaii.
Recommended items for a survival kit can be found on the American Red Cross website at www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/survival-kit-supplies.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.