Hawaii braces for 'triple threat' of Hurricane Douglas

HAWAII (NYTIMES) – Hawaii residents on Sunday (July 26) were rapidly preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Douglas, which was threatening to bring sustained winds of 90 mph and up to 15 inches of rain in some areas, forecasters said.

If Douglas, which was downgraded to a Category 1, reaches the islands, it would be only the third hurricane in modern times to do so.

Hurricane warnings were in effect for the counties that include the islands of Kahoolawe, Kauai, Lanai, Maui, Molokai, Niihau and Oahu, the National Hurricane Centre said in an advisory on Sunday.

Hurricane conditions were expected as early as Sunday afternoon local time on Oahu, and in Kauai and Niihau Sunday night, and could continue into Monday, the centre said. A tropical storm warning was in effect for the Island of Hawaii.

“Douglas will pass dangerously close to, or over, the islands today, bringing a triple threat of hazards, including, but not limited to, damaging winds, flooding rainfall and dangerously high surf,” the centre said on Sunday.

It is rare for hurricanes to hit Hawaii because of the islands’ size compared with the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Other conditions in Hawaii, including lower water temperatures and wind shear, also weaken hurricanes.

Only two storms since modern record-keeping starting in 1900 are known to have struck the islands: In 1992, Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai as a Category 4 storm, killing six people and causing about US$3 billion (S$4.15 billion) in damage. In 1959, Hurricane Dot caused about US$5.5 million in damage.

While Douglas has weakened, the storm was expected to remain a hurricane as it moved through the islands on Sunday.

The combination of high water levels, storm surge and large breaking waves could raise water levels by as much as 3 feet above normal tides near the centre of the storm, the centre warned.

From the counties of Maui to Kauai westward, there may be 5-10 inches of rain, with up to 15 inches in elevated areas, possibly contributing to flash flooding and landslides.

Maui County was asking residents to shelter in place or move to an emergency shelter immediately if they lacked a safe place to weather the storm.

Thirteen shelters were opening on Sunday in Honolulu, including the Hawaii Convention Center, which can hold 1,600 people, with social distancing, Honolulu’s mayor, Kirk Caldwell, said at a news conference on Saturday.

Officials have warned that space at the shelters may be constricted because of social distancing policies. Governor David Ige of Hawaii said the authorities would monitor capacity at the shelters and open more if necessary.

The American Red Cross has about 300 volunteers to help run the shelters, and those volunteers will be given personal protective equipment.

It has been a challenge to recruit volunteers because of the coronavirus pandemic, said Maria Lutz, the director of regional services for the Hawaii Red Cross.

In Honolulu, city workers were being asked to volunteer to help in the shelters, the mayor said.

“We do understand the concern of these city workers,” Caldwell said, “and we’re asking them as city servants to help with the need at this time.”

In a statement on Sunday morning, the hurricane centre emphasised that residents should not focus on the exact forecast track or intensity of Douglas.

“Due to Douglas’s angle of approach to the islands, any wobble in the track could lead to significant differences in where the worst weather occurs,” the centre said.

“Even if the centre remains offshore, severe impacts could still be realised over the islands, as they extend well away from the centre.”

Ige on Thursday issued a pre-landfall emergency proclamation that authorised state funds for quick disaster relief.

“We don’t just focus on the wind,” Feltgen said on Friday about the storm. “You have to look at the water impacts on this thing as well. Very heavy rainfall.”

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