Oahu hurricane losses worry disaster officials


POSTED: Thursday, June 04, 2009

Even with preparation, the state could face tremendous losses if a major hurricane struck Oahu, where many homes and buildings aren't designed to withstand high winds or a sea surge, disaster officials acknowledged yesterday.





        In the three-day “;Makani Pahili”; exercise, the would-be hurricane caused much damage :

» Deaths: 134


» Homes damaged: 70 percent


» People seeking shelter: 150,000


» Stranded tourists: 70,000


» Emergency meals: 1 million a day


» Blackout duration: 30 days


» Cell-phone service: None


Source: State Civil Defense




“;We have a problem,”; said Edward Texeira, vice director of Hawaii State Civil Defense.

With an eye toward mitigating the destruction, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is spending close to $2 million to develop a joint operation plan and help prepare an exercise for a hurricane disaster.

Under the three-day “;Makani Pahili”; exercise ending today, hundreds of state, city, and federal officials practiced what they would do if Oahu were struck by a Category 4 hurricane blowing in excess of 131 mph, with gusts to 200 mph.

Hurricane Iniki, which hit Kauai in 1992, was a Category 4 storm, blowing in at more than 140 mph. By contrast, Katrina and Rita were mere Category 3 hurricanes when they made landfall in Louisiana in 2005.

The exercise has the eye of a would-be hurricane passing over Kapolei this year, flooding some areas with 1 to 3 feet of water as far mauka as Beretania Street.

Officials said under this scenario, the hurricane would cause some 134 fatalities and damage or destroy 70 percent of the homes, leaving an estimated 150,000 people requiring shelter.

Texeira said the scenario calls for disaster-relief officials to provide about 1 million meals a day and find a way to return some 70,000 visitors to their homes.

He said power from utilities would be down for about 30 days and cell phones would be inoperable.

The emergency preparedness plan calls for an infusion of electrical generators flown to Oahu and the use of ham radio operators and radio stations on other islands to help in communications, he said.

Texeira said that in addition, the state would be looking at how it might bring in mobile cell-phone units.

To coordinate efforts and help in communications, disaster officials from various government agencies would be operating out of a joint field office similar to the one run by some 200 people at the Hawaii Convention Center yesterday.

A similar exercise has been conducted annually for the past 16 years.

FEMA officials said that in the aftermath of such a hurricane, some major priorities would include reopening ports and clearing debris from runways and roadways to enable the delivery of medical supplies, food and other supplies to designated shelters.

Farley Howell, FEMA Region IX national preparedness director, said that since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, FEMA has learned to be “;more forward leaning,”; providing agency teams before the disaster—teams that would be working with state officials to provide relief.

“;This exercise really helps us refine plans to provide relief and services to the people of Hawaii,”; he said.

Officials said getting resources to Hawaii would be a challenge because flights from the mainland take five to six hours and a sealift from Oakland about 5 1/2 days.