HI Flood Updates from Honolulu and Hilo

Liz Carey

Honolulu, HI (WorkersCompensation.com) – For hundreds of businesses in Hawaii, safety concerns for employees and customers prompted closure in advance of Hurricane Lane last week.

Hawaii News Now reported Thursday that businesses across the state’s main island were closing in anticipation of heavy rains and high winds as a result of the hurricane. Lane was expected to skirt the edges of the Hawaiian islands, but because the storm had slowed to an estimated 5 miles per hour, many of the islands were expected to get as much as 30 inches of rain.

Many of the state’s largest shopping malls closed on Thursday afternoon, and remained closed on Friday. HNN reported that Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and Zippy’s also closed early. The Zippy’s president told the news organization it was out of a concern for safety.

“Safety is incredibly important to us. For our employees, we know that they have challenges because schools are closed,” Paul Yokota, president of FCH Enterprises (which owns Zippy’s) told HNN. “We know getting to and from work — because public transportation is closed — is going to be a challenge.”

Some stores, like Safeway, chose to remain open in order to assist last-minute customers buying storm supplies.

Representatives from Safeway did not return calls for comment by press time.

Hospitals across the state’s eight islands prepared for a surge in patients in advance of the storm. Queen’s Medical Center, the state’s only level-one trauma center, said it was prepared for the after effects of the hurricane.

The director of Hawaii’s Department of Health Bruce Anderson said an influx of patients could jeopardize the health care system in the state.

“Basically, our healthcare system is very fragile in that respect. Our hospitals are full. They can’t afford to keep beds open for people in the event of storms like this,” Anderson said. “Fortunately, in this case we actually have a federal agency that has sent two teams here, 30 people on each team, with resources to help support establishing medical facilities if need be.”

Other hospitals boosted their staffing levels to deal with any storm injuries or illnesses.

“We’ve increased our support staff here for the next four days. A lot of us are looking at bunking in, that way we make sure that we have adequate staff to be able to rotate shifts and make sure people get sleep,” said Dr. Kari Dechenne, with the Waianai Coast Comprehensive Health Center.

Residents and tourists also faced the threat of fire. Storm winds fueled a brush fire in Maui, pushing it over a highway and spreading it further. As of early Friday morning, the wind had picked up, but the rains had yet to begin. More than 3,000 acres had burned, prompting evacuations from West Maui. Maui Electric reported Friday that nearly 4,000 customers were without power.

“I’m sure they wish it would rain so they could get rid of that fire,” Victoria Monroe, a tourist from Orange County, CA, who spoke with New York Times. “It was at the top of the hill and it went all the way down toward the ocean. I thought it was a volcano erupting.”

The Big Island of Hawaii seemed to be out of danger as the storm passed by it and was downgraded to a tropical storm warning. But, “…There is no reason to believe that anyone is safe in the warning area,” forecasters with the National Weather Service said.

Hoteliers in the area said while many tourists canceled vacations, many who would have left the island found they could not because of crowded flights.

Doug Okada, general manager of the Aston Waikiki Sunset, said his 330 units were full this week. While some visitors had cancelled their travel plans, others had extended their plans due to fears of traveling in the storm. The hotel would remain open, he told WorkersCompensation.com.

“We run a hotel and it’s a 24/7 operation, no matter what the situation is — whether it’s a hurricane, earthquake or whatever. We still have guests that we have to provide services to,” he said. “During situations like this, we provide limited service though. We give our employees the option to work. For those who do decide to work, we will let them stay here. I have several who spent the night here last night, and will probably stay again tonight and tomorrow night. This way, they don’t have to be in harm’s way going to and from work.”

While hurricanes are rare, he said, the current situation necessitated giving employees a place to stay if they needed it.

“The authorities announced yesterday that they were shutting down public transportation, and that is how many of our employees get to work, so we needed to make sure if they chose to work, they had a place to stay,” he said.

Hilo, HI (WorkersCompensation.com) – Hawaiian officials reported no injuries over the weekend after more than 40 inches of rain fell on the islands as Hurricane Lane passed by.

While the threat of inclement weather from Lane has ended, forecasters said more rain from Hurricane Miriam may be on the way.

State officials said that several search and rescue units were deployed to look for people trapped in homes and vehicles, but that no injuries had been reported.

The main island of Hawaii received 46 inches of rain in some places, while other islands in the state received as little at 10.

At the Kileau volcano, rainfall created a rare whiteout, as water hitting the hot lava that has been erupting from fissures near the volcano for the past three months turned immediately to steam.

County officials said on Sunday that initial damage estimates found two houses that were destroyed, but more damage assessments would be made throughout the week.

By Monday afternoon, a spokesman at the National Weather Service in Hawaii said record rainfall had fallen in some areas of the Big Island.

The rainfall led to street closings due to flooding and landslides.

“Mountain View has measured 51.53 inches of rain for the period running from 12 noon, (Hawaiian Standard Time) on Aug. 22 through 4 AM, Aug. 26,” the spokesman said in a statement to WorkersCompensation.com. “This is a preliminary total subject to final quality control, but this is currently the third-highest storm total rainfall from a tropical cyclone in the United States since 1950. The highest total is 60.58 inches, measured at Nederland, TX, during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The second highest total, and the highest tropical cyclone storm total rainfall in Hawaii is 52 inches, measured at Kanaloahuluhulu Ranger Station, during Hurricane Hiki in 1950.”

Forecasters said that while Lane had moved on, the islands could see torrential rains through Wednesday, and that residents needed to monitor weather and emergency services warnings.

But surfers seemed to not be heeding the advice.

Surfer Will Rozier told Reuters that he couldn’t wait to hit the waves.

“I couldn’t even sit down and eat breakfast,” he said. “I had to throw it all in my car and drive down to the beach and eat it while I was watching the waves and the sun rising.”

In September 2017, professional surfer Zander Venezia, died while trying to catch waves generated by Hurricane Irma in Barbados. According to Surfers Journal, surfing isn’t a necessarily death-defying sport, but nearly a dozen surfers have died in the past few years.