FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
At Kai Store in Hilo, Solomon Kaholoaa filled a tank with propane yesterday while a long line of residents waited their turn in preparation for Hurricane Flossie. CLICK FOR LARGE
Storm rolls toward Big Isle
Forecasters predict that a deluge of rain and high winds will batter the island today
HURRICANE FLOSSIE is expected to bash the Big Island today with 60 mph winds and up to 10 inches of rainfall when it makes its closest pass at midafternoon, and state and county Civil Defense officials say they are ready with supplies and manpower.
Emergency supplies such as food, water, blankets and cots are in place on the Big Island in case they are needed in Flossie's aftermath, state officials said.
Similar stores are in place on all islands, state Adjutant Gen. Robert Lee said yesterday, as a result of increased disaster preparedness measures undertaken by the state in recent years.
The National Weather Service said the Big Island would be spared the worst because the storm would pass nearly 90 miles south of South Point.
"We expect sustained winds in the 40 to 50 mph range with gusts up to 60," said warning coordination meteorologist Ray Tanabe.
Sustained winds of more than 115 mph radiate out 40 miles from the eye of the storm, while tropical storm force extends out 155 miles. Flossie was still a Category 3 hurricane (those with winds of 111-130 mph) as of 11 p.m. yesterday, although it was expected to continue to weaken.
The Kau district is expected to get 10 inches of rainfall, and Puna and Hilo could get from 5 to 10 inches, according to the forecast.
The storm's approach could be seen last night as the surf rose on southeast shores, expected to increase to 15 to 20 feet by this afternoon.
The weather service issued yesterday a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch for the Big Island, and a small-craft advisory for the waters surrounding all islands. A high-surf advisory extended to Maui, Oahu and Kauai and was in effect through 6 p.m. tomorrow.
Forecasters said the other islands will likely benefit from some rainfall but be spared the brunt of the storm if it keeps to its west-northwest track.
"As it comes up the chain, it will be 150 to 160 miles south of Maui," said James Weyman, head of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center.
By midmorning tomorrow the hurricane is expected to pass about 200 miles south of Honolulu.
"There is very little chance that it will do anything like Iniki," said Weyman. The 1992 hurricane, the last to hit Hawaii, changed course and slammed Kauai, killing six people and causing $2.5 billion in damage.
"It is highly unlikely that it will turn," said Weyman. "The atmosphere is very much different than it was during Iniki. Then, a low-pressure system developed that caused winds off Kauai to be all from the south.
"In this case we have low-level winds that come from the east and southeast," Weyman said.
Tanabe said, "The hurricane will increase the pressure over the island so we will see increased tradewinds on Oahu Wednesday. Not a lot of rainfall, 1 to 2 inches for Windward sections," he predicted.
State Civil Defense officials braced for Flossie's potential impact yesterday, as Gov. Linda Lingle signed an emergency disaster proclamation for the state.
The proclamation gives Lee broad powers to activate members of the National Guard as needed in the case of an emergency.
"It boosts our efforts in emergency support functions in the area of transportation, cleanup and minor evacuations, to allow us to prepare ourselves for Hurricane Flossie," Lee said yesterday at a news conference.
The proclamation also clears the way for use of $2 million in major emergency disaster funds, if needed, Lee said.
Lee said active units of the National Guard could be bolstered by a 400-member cavalry unit if needed. For now they are standing by with helicopters in case they are needed, he said. "We can activate in a hurry," Lee said.
About 15 American Red Cross volunteers from Oahu and other islands were headed for the Big Island this morning to augment the teams staffing emergency shelters, said Maria Lutz, state disaster services director.
Lingle was scheduled to visit the Kona area of the Big Island tomorrow and Thursday, but her office said those plans have been postponed. Spokesman Russell Pang said the governor would wait and see what happens with the hurricane and then determine whether to go to the Big Island.
On Oahu, city crews have surveyed streams and bridges but found "no real problems with clearing them," said John Cummings, public information officer of the city Department of Emergency Management, formerly the Oahu Civil Defense Agency. The Honolulu Police Department has planned evacuation of residents if shoreline areas are threatened, he said.
Cummings said Oahu agencies have participated in State Civil Defense teleconference briefings. "We have been preparing since we first recognized Flossie as a threat, but it still appears it will have a minimal effect on the City and County of Honolulu."
Cummings said the Civil Defense agency got calls yesterday from "people asking what we should be buying. Today was already too late. Residents need to take the threat seriously. As soon as a hurricane reaches the 140 west longitude mark, that's when you should start doing disaster preparedness."
Meanwhile, Board of Water Supply officials on Oahu urged residents to keep an eye on hurricane updates and not take any unnecessary steps.
"We really don't want people to panic and start taking steps prematurely," said spokeswoman Su Shin. "That could have an adverse impact on our water system.
"If any kind of emergency water measures are necessary, then we will, through Civil Defense and the media, be notifying the public."
Officials also are posting notices on the board's Web site, www.boardofwatersupply.com.