As pandemic continues, Hawaii readies for hurricane season

  • Tribune-Herald file photo Vehicles drive past power lines damaged by Tropical Storm Iselle in 2014 on Pahoa-Kapoho Road in Pahoa.

  • Tribune-Herald file photo Flooding from Hurricane Lane caused major damage in August 2018 in the Piihonua neighborhood in Hilo.

The Big Island’s Civil Defense chief said his agency is “ramped up as much as we can be” for the upcoming start of hurricane season because of the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everybody’s activated, you know, so we know what our capabilities are, and if a hurricane comes in, everybody’s vigilant and watching what’s going on,” said Talmadge Magno, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator, on Wednesday.

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According to forecasters at the Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu, the Central Pacific basin can expect normal to below-normal tropical cyclone activity during hurricane season, which starts June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

Chris Brenchley, the hurricane center’s director, said two to six tropical cyclones — that includes depressions, storms and hurricanes — are expected to pass through the basin this year. That doesn’t mean any or all of those weather disturbances will impact the islands, although that is a possibility.

If a cyclone were to impact the islands during the pandemic, hurricane evacuation shelters will operate differently than they have in the past, according to Maria Lutz, regional disaster officer for the American Red Cross of Hawaii.

“Red Cross will be working together with counties’ emergency management and public health to create a shelter environment that can support social distancing,” Lutz said. “Other measures that will be adopted will involve frequent cleaning and disinfecting of common surfaces, and performing health screening and temperature checks for people before they enter the shelters.”

Lutz said masks will be provided for shelter evacuees who arrive without them, and those found to have a fever or other symptoms of COVID-19 will be isolated from the general shelter population and provided medical attention.

Magno added sheltering of evacuees is a concern “because of the social distancing and precautions you’ve got to take.”

“All the counties are in discussion with American Red Cross, so we’re all sharing the same information and working with the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) as far as what their recommendations are.” he said.

All residents are advised to have 14 days of emergency supplies on hand — including nonperishable food, water, batteries and medication — the same advice that was given to residents when Gov. David Ige declared a statewide emergency in March because of the pandemic.

The declaration led to a run on critical supplies such as toilet paper, bottled water and canned foods, and highlighted potential weaknesses in the islands’ supply chain — which is largely dependent on ocean cargo arriving in Honolulu and barge shipping from Oahu to the neighbor islands.

“My worst case scenario, if Oahu gets hit and gets hit profoundly, is the rest of us are up a creek with no paddle,” said Maui Mayor Mike Victorino during the hurricane center’s media conference.

Magno said Honolulu “is always on our mind during hurricane season.”

“If shipping is impacted, we’re going to be relying on aircraft at that point,” he said.

Magno added that in the past month or so, critical items on Big Island store shelves “have come back, somewhat, since they were depleted early on in this event … and shipping continues.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said with the state having been under a stay-at-home order since March 25, there is “a strong likelihood that our people may be a little more reluctant to follow instructions, in terms of a crisis.”

“We’re arguably at our most vulnerable, because so many people are out of work. And when people are vulnerable like this, they tend to take risks,” Green said. “… If we have a big hurricane, I’m concerned about that.”

Green, an emergency room physician at Kona and Kohala hospitals, added the stay-at-home order, coupled with a third of the state’s workforce becoming jobless, might have caused many to not have adequate supplies of necessary medications.

“This is probably a very good time to remind people that being stocked up on their medications — if they haven’t done it for obvious reasons in the recent past — that they should do that,” Green said.

He added that people should help neighbors, especially the elderly, obtain an adequate supply of necessities in case a storm rolls in.

In addition, a drier-than-normal dry season is expected to develop, according to Kevin Kodama, NWS senior hydrologist.

“I think, by the end of September, we’re going to see considerable drought development, especially over the leeward sections of the state,” he said. “The one exception may be the Kona slopes of the Big Island, because they’re the only leeward side in the state of Hawaii that has their wet season over the summer months.”

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Hurricane preparedness information from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is available online at https://bit.ly/3e5Bec8.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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