Maui County braces for Hurricane Lane

Stocking up for the storm

Tara Lopedota of Makawao pushes her shopping cart of supplies Tuesday afternoon at Costco. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

KAHULUI — Maui County residents, tourists and businesses are preparing for Hurricane Lane and the possibility of stores running out of supplies due to the anticipated closure of all ports statewide when the storm hits.

The Category 5 storm is forecast to come dangerously close to Hawaii, leading many residents to buy food, water and gasoline Tuesday, while crowds of visitors appeared at Kahului Airport trying to find an early flight home. Businesses also were making preparations with one car dealership transporting hundreds of cars to an offsite lot away from the ocean.

“It’s going to be pretty bad,” Maui District Harbors Manager Duane Kim said Tuesday. “I probably had a meeting an hour from this morning. This hurricane is a lot more dangerous because of, one, it’s closer to Maui and, two, the anticipated storm and force of the winds are a lot higher.”

The U.S. Coast Guard anticipates closing Maui County’s three commercial ports and the Big Island’s port at 11 p.m. today, Kim said. Ports on Oahu and Kauai would follow at 11 a.m. and 11 p.m., respectively.

Small boat harbors and ramps operated by the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation will remain open, though boaters are advised to secure their crafts.

The Costco gas lines were long Tuesday as drivers waited to fill up gas tanks in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Lane. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Young Brothers canceled its shipments for the rest of the week. A barge with minimal fuel and basic needs was sent Tuesday to Kaunakakai Harbor on Molokai and Kaumalapau Harbor on Lanai.

In an evacuation notice, Kim advised state harbor workers to protect Maui County’s three harbors, which serve as “critical lifelines” for delivering supplies in the state. He added that vessels must have a safe port open to begin supplying the state as quickly as possible following a heavy weather event.

“My biggest concern is that we don’t have anything that flies into the harbor and causes navigation blockage so ships can’t come in,” he said.

Shipping containers reach nearly 10 feet high and with Kahului Harbor’s center only 40 feet deep, it could prevent ships from entering the pier, Kim said. He said the last time the harbor was closed was for a couple days due to debris and surging waters from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The possible closure of Maui County’s ports does not bode well for residents still in need of supplies.

By Tuesday afternoon, Costco had already sold out of generators, flashlights, lanterns, D-batteries, tarps and duct tape, officials said. Workers used forklifts to bring down pallets of goods throughout the day to keep up with demand.

“We keep pallets of this stuff, but it’s all gone today,” General Manager Tony Facemire said.

Facemire said all 18 registers were opened, all 850 shopping carts were in use and all 810 parking stalls were occupied Tuesday morning. He said he brought in nearly 300 employees to assist. They had to park in the old Kmart parking lot.

“I have quite a few employees who have worked 10 to 12 hours today to help us out, and I’m glad they did,” he said.

The wholesale store sold eight shipping containers of water — or roughly 7,700 cases — from Monday afternoon to Tuesday afternoon, Facemire said. He said the store could run out of water and would not be able to get another shipment until next week due to the harbor closures.

“I’ve been here for only three and a half years, but this is probably the busiest I’ve seen it,” he said. “It seems like it’s (Hurricane Lane) closer to us and severe, and I think that’s put a little more fear in everybody. Hopefully in the end it’s just a scare and everyone is OK.”

Costco Gasoline supervisor Francis Tom said cars were lined up outside 45 minutes before the pumps opened at 6 a.m. Tuesday. He said the station was gridlocked by 8 a.m., and workers had to direct traffic with lines backed up to Dairy Road.

“I think because this hurricane is creeping closer everyone is taking this a little more seriously,” Tom said. “We’re usually busy, but not this busy.”

Residents from across the island stopped by the store and expressed their concerns over the storm.

Teresa Ferreira of Kahului was topping off her car with gas after buying some dog food and other essentials. She said she was not worried about the hurricane until friends and family cautioned her to get prepared.

“I was dragging my butt at home thinking, ‘I got time; don’t worry about it,’ but then I got other people worrying about it so I had to get going,” Ferreira said. “I’ve never seen the lines this long here for gas.”

Tara Lopedota of Makawao pushed a cart overflowing with water, peanut butter and jelly, dog food and other items. She said she prepares for every storm as do many Upcountry residents, who routinely lose power due to strong winds and falling eucalyptus trees.

“I grew up here, and this is the first one that’s looking not very good,” Lopedota said, adding that she has been stuck at her home for three days in previous storms. “But even when we don’t have hurricanes, I lose my power to strong winds. I got to feed kids and dogs.”

Kitty Cross of Lahaina said she already had planned to stop by Costco, but bought several more items like chili, tuna and water due to the storm. She also feared how long it may take for resupplies to reach Maui’s harbors after the storm.

“I spent $700 I wouldn’t have otherwise spent, if there wasn’t a hurricane,” she said. “It looks like it might miss us, but you never know because Iniki took a turn and went right over Kauai.”

While residents brace for the worst, visitors called airlines and appeared at Kahului Airport seeking the first flight home.

Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz said there was a spike in phone calls and people at the ticket counters Tuesday, but very few were able to fly out early. He said his office received at least 50 calls from people asking if the airport was open.

“Our priority is to keep the airfield open for emergency medical aircrafts, supplies and equipment,” Moniz said. “We’re staging equipment from our own baseyard too, so if anything obstructs the airfield we can get to it right away.”

Moniz said the airport will remain open, but roads to the airport may close and airlines may cancel flights. He said the state is actively notifying visitors to make backup accommodations so they do not have to sleep at the airport.

Hawaiian Airlines is waiving reservation change fees for passengers as well as its guests flying on its codeshare partners from Tuesday through Sunday due to Hurricane Lane.

The homeless people know, through word of mouth, that a hurricane is coming as well.

Maude Cumming, executive director of the Family Life Center in Kahului said the best option for Maui’s homeless is to go to a Red Cross shelter. The center is currently awaiting word from the county on where the shelters will be.

“We need that information,” Cumming said.

Once they know, Family Life Center officials will pass the word to homeless people and even transport them “before, not the time of” the arrival of the rain and hurricane,” she said. The center has tried to maximize its facilities, but the organization lacks the resources to open up additional space.

The center has room for 20 women and children and families. There were spaces available Tuesday, Cumming said.

Local businesses began taking precautions Tuesday with many boat tours canceling excursions, and Jim Falk Motors of Maui moving hundreds of its cars to the old Lowe’s parking lot on Hana Highway.

Scott Stephens, manager of Maalaea Harbor Activities, said at least half of the 20 tour boat operators in Maalaea Harbor have already canceled their reservations for today and Thursday. He said there could be many more because he had not talked to all of them.

“They’re all planning on tying their boats down extra safe,” Stephens said Tuesday afternoon. “Everyone is a little nervous about this one. But right now it’s beautiful out there . . . Boy you wouldn’t know what’s right around the corner without the satellite.”

General Sales Manager Amanda Lumen said all of Jim Falk’s dealerships were instructed to move as many cars to the surplus lot as they could throughout the day and to bring in any outside materials that may fly away during the storm. Lumen said many of the cars being moved are 2018 models of Nissan, Chevy and Cadillac.

Maui Electric Co. is making emergency preparations including assigning and pre-positioning workers and equipment as needed, officials said. The company urged families and businesses to review emergency plans and track updates on the storm.

For electrical safety and preparation tips, visit www.mauielectric.com/prepare.

Residents are advised to not shut off their gas unless instructed by Civil Defense, emergency management officials or Hawaii Gas, according to the gas company.

The company said in a news release Tuesday that it will issue instructions through public service announcements on whether to shut off the gas if residents are required to evacuate their homes or businesses. The company also is preparing for expedited deliveries to customers including hospitals, shelters, emergency responders and long-term care homes to ensure they have enough fuel to continue operations in the event of a power outage.

Hawaii Gas added that it has “adequate propane” in its tank storage facilities on Kauai, Maui, Big Island and Oahu to support its customers in “the event of a supply disruption.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

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