President Trump approved Gov. David Ige’s request for a disaster declaration Wednesday as powerful Hurricane Lane spiraled closer to Hawaii.
In a briefing at the state capitol, Ige urged residents and visitors to take every precaution to protect their health and safety.
“We are expecting large amounts of rain, flooding and high winds. There will be significant impacts even if the hurricane doesn’t hit us directly,” Ige said.
As of 5 p.m., the center of Lane was 215 miles south-southwest of South Point.
Lane weakened slightly but was still a potent Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 145 miles an hour. It was moving to the west-northwest at 8 mph.
A hurricane warning is in effect for Hawaii and Maui counties and the island of Oahu, with a hurricane watch in effect for Kauai County.
Hurricane force winds continue to extend outward up to 40 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 140 miles.
Matt Foster, a National Weather Service forecaster, said the peak wind forecast for Hilo and Kona “will be 20 to 30 mph, with gusts to 55.”
Rains were heavy at times Wednesday in Hilo, and a flash flood watch remains in effect until 6 p.m. Saturday night.
“The forecast is for 18 to 24 inches,” Foster said. “I think that might be a little more appropriate for the west side of the island, because it’s a little further away (from the storm) on the Hilo side. It really could vary quite a bit, but I would say at least 10 inches in Hilo.”
A high surf warning is also in effect until 6 a.m. Friday for south-facing shores of Hawaii Island. Wave heights of 15 to 25 feet are forecast, with the largest surf expected along the island’s southern and southeastern coasts. A storm surge of up to 4 feet is anticipated.
Foster said that while it appears the Big Island will be spared from a direct hit, Lane is still a hurricane of historic proportions by Hawaii standards and could have significant impacts on Maui, Oahu and Kauai.
“I’ve been here for 10 years, and this is probably the worst threat I’ve seen,” he said.
Foster referred to what he called the “big three” hurricanes: Iniki, in 1992, like Lane, a Category 4 storm, responsible for seven deaths and $1.8 billion damage, mostly on Kauai; Iwa, in 1982, a Category 1 storm responsible for four deaths and $312 million damage; and Dot, in 1959, a Category 4 storm responsible for two deaths.
County Managing Director Wil Okabe said Mayor Harry Kim told the morning briefing at Civil Defense headquarters in Hilo he’d “never seen this situation in all his years as a Civil Defense administrator.”
Okabe said the county opened an emergency operations center at the West Hawaii Civic Center in Kailua-Kona, and the most concern is for the west side of the island.
“People in Hilo, it’s not strange for us when we’ve got this type of heavy rain. We come to work in this type of rain. As long as there’s no lightning, we play thunder in this kind of rain,” he said.
“One of the things we’re very concerned about is the coastal areas and the high surf, and (we’re) looking to assess the situation and having a contingency plan if the waves are humongous,” Okabe continued. “But we have everything in place in regards to shelters. First responders are all activated.”
The shelters — all in West Hawaii — are located at Hookena Elementary School, Kamehameha Park Hisaoka Gym, Kealakehe High School, Waikoloa Elementary and Middle School and Konawaena High School gym.
First responders included Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers, sent to Kona as Lane approaches, Mayor Harry Kim said Wednesday. The request was approved Wednesday morning by Hawaii Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara.
“We’ve moved the National Guard there because we’re still trying to make a decision in regards to should any of the projected possibilities materialize we need to act before then,” Kim said. “That decision (to act) has not been made, but it is a possibility.”
The troops will assist in any manner requested, from mass evacuation to traffic control, Kim said.
Another concern with the possible high winds is potential power outages. Hawaii Island lost about 30 percent of its electrical generation when Puna Geothermal Venture closed down prior to its wells being overrun by lava from the recent Kilauea lower East Rift Zone eruption.
“We’re going to do the best we can to maintain power for our customers. But it is a very strong hurricane, and the grid is not hurricane-proof,” said Hawaii Electric Light Co. spokeswoman Kristen Okinaka. “We do anticipate some outages because of the power of the storm itself. This storm is a little different than prior storms. Usually, those storms head toward Puna first, but this one is going to hug the west side, so it’s a little different situation.”
Okinaka said there are backup diesel generators in case a power plant goes offline. She also said that for the safety of their workers, the utility’s crews will not make outside repairs until the storm has passed.
Closures because of Hurricane Lane include:
• All commercial harbors in the state. Harbor notices have been sent to all vessel owners informing them that their vessels must vacate the harbors prior to the storm unless they have written exemptions.
• All post offices on Hawaii Island today. There will be no mail delivery and no mail pickup from blue USPS mail boxes.
• All public schools and the University of Hawaii will remain closed for the remainder of the week, as will all state offices and courthouses.
• All county beach parks from Punaluu in Ka‘u to Mahukona in North Kohala.
• All nonemergency operations of the county will be closed today. Nonemergency staff will not report to work and county offices will be closed. Normal operations will resume Friday.
• The Kahuku Unit of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is closed today and Thursday. A community talk-story event about the future of HVNP was rescheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 30.
• South Point Road from the Kamaoa Road junction to South Point is closed to all through traffic and open to local residents only.
• The state also urges drivers to stay away from Akoni Pule Highway in North Kohala, which may be closed.
The state’s 15 airports and their runways will remain open and accessible, barring any infrastructure damage or debris that would make flight operations unsafe, Ige said.
Chelsea Jensen of West Hawaii Today contributed to this story.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.