Hurricane Flossie Sideswipes Hawaii
SOUTH POINT, Hawaii – Hours after getting jolted by a moderate earthquake, residents of Hawaii’s Big Island holed up for a different force of nature Tuesday: Hurricane Flossie, expected to deliver up to 10 inches of rain, waves as high as 25 feet and strong winds in a powerful but glancing blow.
Schools and many businesses closed and shelters opened in anticipation of the hurricane, which was downgraded to a Category 2 with top sustained winds of 105 mph. The eye of the storm passed within 85 miles of the island between 2 and 3 p.m. Hawaii time (8-9 p.m. EDT), and wind speeds on land were expected to exceed 40 mph.
The storm comes on the heels of a 5.4-magnitude earthquake centered 25 miles south of Hilo. The quake Monday night caused a small landslide, but there were no reports of injuries or structural damage, said Tom Brown, a spokesman for Hawaii County Civil Defense.
More than two dozen aftershocks followed, the largest measuring magnitude 3.2, said Jim Kauahikaua, scientist in charge at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Anticipating Flossie, the Federal Emergency Management Agency dispatched a 20-person advance emergency response team that arrived in Hawaii on Monday, spokeswoman Kim Walz said. The team includes specialists in areas of transportation, aviation, public works and health.
“Instead of waiting for an actual disaster and then going in and providing support, we want to be ready,” she said. “We’ve begun to move resources into place ahead of time to be prepared.”
The National Weather Service placed the Big Island under a hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning because of the storm, which was supposed to affect the island through Wednesday. A flash flood watch was also issued for the island.
At 8 p.m. EDT, Flossie was about 160 miles south-southeast of Hilo and 340 miles southeast of Honolulu, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said. The storm was moving west-northwest at about 9 mph.
Hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph extended outward up to 40 miles from the center of the storm, while tropical storm force wind of at least 39 mph extend outward up to 105 miles.
“This is too close for comfort,” said National Guard Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, the state adjutant general.
At South Point, the southernmost spot in Hawaii, resident Brianna Beck visited a favorite swimming spot to watch the waves. Her family prepared for the hurricane by taping the windows and tying down everything in their yard.
The currents were much stronger than normal, said Beck, 21.
“This is pretty intense,” she said.
In the nearby town of Naalehu, small businesses such as the Star Wash coin laundry had signs saying they were closed for the day.
According to the Red Cross, a special hurricane shelter in Kealakehe, farther north, harbored 15 people overnight Monday. Most were campers ordered out of the parks that were closed.
“I’m a lot more optimistic than I was, but the reality is, you just don’t know until it passes you by,” said Marty Moran, a volunteer coordinator for the Red Cross.
In Naalehu, the Hana Ho Restaurant closed an hour early so the staff could get home before the storm arrived.
Extra pallets of water lined the aisles at Costco in Kona. Most customers had water, batteries and toilet paper in their carts.
At Kamigaki Market in Kealakekua, supervisor Sheryl Tremaine said Tuesday, “People are definitely buying more batteries, canned goods, saimin and, believe it or not, beer and cigarettes.” Saimin is a traditional Hawaiian noodle soup.
While Flossie stirred up the Pacific, Tropical Storm Dean formed Tuesday in the open Atlantic, nearly 1,400 miles east of the Lesser Antilles. By late morning, it had top sustained wind of 40 mph, just above the threshold to be a named storm, and was moving west at about 21 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Dean was moving over increasingly warmer water, where conditions could create a favorable environment for intensification into a hurricane by Friday, but forecasters said it was too early to tell where Dean will go.
In Hawaii, Gov. Linda Lingle signed an emergency disaster proclamation, which activates the National Guard. Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim also declared a state of emergency Monday as a precaution.
The Big Island is largely rural, with about 150,000 people, and most live in the west or northeast, not the southern portion expected to be hit hardest. Other islands ertr expected to get much less wind and rain.
The last time a hurricane hit Hawaii was 1992, when Iniki ravaged Kauai, killing six people and causing $2.5 billion in damage.
Marlene Phillips, a Red Cross volunteer who supervised an evacuation site at Kowaena High School, said no one had taken refuge there early Tuesday morning.
“We’re just going to cross our fingers that nothing happens,” she said.
Frank Carpenter, co-owner of the surfboard and kayak rental shop Kona Boys in Kealakekua, said his normal customer flow of several hundred per day had dwindled to a trickle, as people avoided the water. But he said there were a lot of calls about surf conditions.
“Over the next couple of days, with any luck, it will turn up a little bit of surf and it will be good for business,” he said. “We’ll start getting people who are looking for a bit of action in the ocean.”
On the Net:
Central Pacific Hurricane Center: http://www.prh.noaa.gov/hnl/cphc/
National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/