Calm before the storm

As Hurricane Iselle began to wreak havoc on the Big Island on Thursday night, Maui County was bracing for the storm’s arrival, expected at 9 p.m. and with its greatest impact early this morning.

Forecast tracks of the storm’s path showed its eye passing southeast of Maui County, possibly delivering a glancing blow instead of the direct hit sustained by Hawaii Island.

As of 8 p.m. Thursday, Iselle remained at Category I hurricane strength and was located 70 miles southeast of Hilo and 190 miles southeast of Kahului. The storm was moving west at 15 mph, with sustained winds near 75 mph.

Around 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Maui County emergency police dispatchers were beginning to receive reports of downed powerlines, including one in Olinda.

At the same time, Hana residents had not seen signs of the storm yet, although they had rain on and off throughout the day.

“We’ve had a few showers, but it’s not raining right now. There’s no wind. It’s pretty calm,” said Dawn Lono, the Maui County Council Hana District Office aide. “I can even see some open sky right here right now.”

Water was running across roadways near Hamoa and Waikoloa but “nothing too major,” she said.

Lono noticed a big storm surge along the shoreline, though.

“I can hear the ocean from my house, and I’m pretty far up the mountain,” she said.

Lono said she and her family were planning to ride out the storm in the comfort of home.

“We’ve got our water buckets filled. I made a big pot of stew. We’re just waiting for anything to happen,” she said. “Whatever happens, we hope we’re ready for it.”

Makawao had intermittent heavy showers and wind gusts around 5 p.m.

Aside from residents getting gas at Ohana Fuels in Minit Stop, Makawao town was quiet with no foot traffic on the sidewalks. By 5 p.m., only a couple of stores and restaurants were still open, including Rodeo General Store and Stopwatch Sportsbar & Grill.

“It was busy today because I guess everyone is off work so they’re all hanging out here,” bartender Steve Edmiston said of the bar.

The bar was offering “Hurricane Iselle” lunch specials Thursday and typically stays open until 1 to 2 a.m. for karaoke night. However, Edmiston said he would be closing at around 6 p.m. after following the news and seeing all of the other stores closed.

“I sort of pulled rank,” Edmiston said. “It just didn’t seem like it was worth it to stay open with people going home possibly drunk in the middle of a hurricane.”

Olinda and Makawao residents were boarding up their homes and cutting down nearby trees. A few residents were still trickling in to the general store to buy last-minute things, but many had already made their preparations days earlier, store co-manager Andrew Anderson said.

“It’s been wild. We sold a lot of water over the past two days,” Anderson said. “People are really nervous and concerned about this . . . I’ve never seen someone be so crazy over napkins and certain things like that.”

Anderson said the store had piles and piles of water, ice, canned goods, beer cases and other things that nearly all sold Thursday.

“Our sales are like Christmas Day sales,” he said.

Paia was a virtual ghost town Thursday at about 7 p.m. Residents said some stores closed as early as 2:30 p.m.

The Paia Fish Market was preparing meals for about a dozen hungry customers.

“We’re kind of like the musicians on the Titanic. We’ll cook until the end,” said longtime cook Anatol Eisele. “Our boss called us and asked if we wanted to close, but we wanted to stay open.”

Tommi Allen of Utah, visiting with a group of nine family members, was eating at the fish market. In town for their parents’ 50th anniversary, family members said the approaching storm didn’t put a damper on their vacation.

“If anything, it adds more to the story,” Allen said.

At a news conference early Thursday afternoon at the Kalana O Maui Building, Mayor Alan Arakawa warned residents to stay inside once the storm arrives.

“Get inside and stay alive,” he said.

At about 9 p.m., winds were forecast to be blowing as strong as 60 mph, with possible floods and rock and mudslides, Arakawa said.

Maui County Civil Defense Emergency Management Officer Anna Foust said that the storm was expected to continue affecting Maui County overnight – for around six to eight hours.

In a response to a question, Arakawa said areas normally prone to strong winds or down-slope acceleration could expect higher gusts. These areas include Ukumehame and Ulupalakua.

County officials said there were no planned road closures, and there were no plans for the county to shut off water or sewer service.

Water Director Dave Taylor asked residents to be in “conservation mode” because power outages could affect electric pumps driving water system operations.

Arakawa asked residents to watch out for elderly friends and neighbors to ensure they’re being taken care of.

County Managing Director Keith Regan said several county landfills would reopen Saturday. He asked residents to bring any storm debris to the landfill that day because Hurricane Julio also is approaching the islands.

The Central Maui Landfill will be open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Regan said. The Hana, Molokai and Lanai landfills will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Maui County offices were expected remain closed at least through this morning. Then, officials planned evaluate whether to reopen offices in the light of the storm’s aftermath.

Islanders spent much of Thursday preparing for the storm.

Nonemergency Maui County and state workers went home early Thursday. Public and private schools were closed and will remain shuttered today.

People who stayed home secured their properties and removed or tied down loose objects in yards that could become projectiles in high winds. Many people watched TV reports with satellite and radar images of Iselle advancing toward the Big Island’s east coast.

A number of airlines canceled flights to the islands, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Hawaiian Airlines moved its Flight 56 from Maui to Los Angeles up nearly five hours from 9:40 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and canceled 18 evening flights in Hilo, Kona and Kahului, the airline announced. The Los Angeles flight stopped first in Honolulu before proceeding to Los Angeles.

Other airlines to cancel flights included American Airlines, Island Air, Mokulele, United Airlines and US Airways. The tourism authority recommended travelers contact their air carriers directly to confirm flights or make changes.

Hawaiian reported that its reservation department was inundated with phone calls Thursday. The airline urged customers to check its website at first, before calling the airline at (800) 367-5320. Callers were waiting an hour or more for service.

Early Thursday evening, Hawaiian announced delays of two to more than five hours today for its flights from Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Seoul and Sapporo and Osaka, Japan, to Honolulu.

Hawaiian and other airlines are waiving cancellation or change fees for passengers whose travel has been affected by the hurricane. For Hawaiian, changes must be made before the time and date of the passenger’s scheduled departure for tickets on or before Tuesday.

Maui District Airports Manager Marvin Moniz said Kahului Airport operations were “normal” Thursday, despite some canceled flights. Most airline carriers were still operating during the day, though nearly all flights after 10 p.m. had been canceled by noon, he said.

“We do see an increase in passenger activity, people want to get off the island,” Moniz said. “It’s a little windy and breezy at this point, but for the most part, we’re hanging in there.”

American, US Airways, United, WestJet and Delta Air Lines had canceled flights scheduled to leave Kahului Airport after 10 p.m., Moniz said.

On Thursday evening, Kahului Airport was nearly deserted, with only a family of four enjoying refreshments in the second-floor lobby. Stores had closed hours earlier.

“You never see this place, at 7:30, like this,” Moniz said.

Around 400 passengers were waiting at gates for flights to Honolulu, Denver and Los Angeles. The last flight was scheduled to leave at 9:40 p.m.

If anyone is stranded at the airport because of a missed flight, airports officials will encourage them to get a hotel room, Moniz said. But if that’s not possible, the stranded passengers would be allowed to sleep in a secure area between Gates 35 and 39, he said.

“We don’t want to put them in harm’s way,” he said.

After the storm passes this morning, Moniz and other airport officials planned to do a security sweep and an assessment to make sure the airport’s ready to reopen.

State Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation Maui District Manager Paul Sensano said that Maalaea Harbor had normal but cloudy conditions as of noon Thursday. State boating officials had secured the division’s facilities, making sure vessels were properly fueled and organizing “the normal response that you’d have for an emergency or impending storm,” he said.

Sensano advised boaters to secure their boats and said no commercial operators should be going out to sea Thursday afternoon. All boaters were advised to check their batteries, make sure their bilge pumps were working and lines were secured, he said. Some boaters were adding more lines to ensure their vessels didn’t drift away during the storm if some lines snapped in high winds or surging waters.

“That’s it, that’s all we can do,” Sensano said.

Operators of the Lanai Expeditions ferry were exercising caution, with its last Lahaina to Lanai boat leaving at 12:45 p.m. Thursday, according to a reservations agent. The boat would stay secured on Lanai, the official said. And there would be no ferry service today. It will be determined later if ferry service will resume on Saturday and Sunday.

As of late Thursday afternoon, officials with the 50-passenger Molokai Princess ferry had not announced whether the Thursday 6 p.m. ride from Lahaina to Kaunakakai would be canceled.

A decision to shut down operations affected numerous Maui businesses.

Pukalani Superette closed early at 6 p.m. Thursday, after seeing the kind of business usually reserved for holidays. Water was one of the most popular purchases, with “a little bit, not much” still available early Thursday afternoon, said Chris Borling, a manager at the store.

“It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “It only gets like this New Year’s Eve and holidays. It’s really pounding.”

Along with water, customers were buying bread, ice, propane, butane, batteries and “definitely rice; that’s a must,” Borling said.

“We ran out of quite a bit of bread,” he said. “We just got a new delivery.”

After selling out of a delivery of ice Thursday morning, more was on the way in the afternoon, Borling said.

The store was planning to open at 7 a.m. today and operate on Sunday hours, closing at 8 p.m., although that could change, depending on weather conditions and whether the store has electricity. “Right now, it’s up in the air,” he said.

In Wailuku, Uptown Chevron Food Mart and Car Wash planned to remain open 24 hours as usual, said “Uptown Girl” Momi Ramos, assistant manager at the business. The gas station is the only one with a backup generator, she said.

“For the past two days, it’s been crazy,” Ramos said. “They’re already panicking, and it’s not here yet. The most popular item is our food – the food, the beer and the gas is flying.”

After running out of lunch Wednesday, the store will be serving lunch today. “It’s going to be storm food,” Ramos said.

“It’s pretty happening here, and we will remain open 24/7,” she said.

On Thursday afternoon, she said the store still had items in stock despite the rush of business.

“So far, we have been good. Everybody’s keeping us replenished,” she said. “They won’t be delivering tomorrow.”

Polynesian Adventure Tours canceled its tours statewide Thursday and today, and drivers parked the company’s 22 motor coaches, 27 minibuses and three vans at an evacuation point along Mokulele Highway.

“That’s our evacuation (place) for our emergency response plan,” said employee Ronnie Gonsalves. “They will stay until we get an all clear to receive them back.”

The company offered customers full refunds or the opportunity to rebook at a later date.

* Brian Perry can be reached at