County braces for Olivia’s impact

Even weakened to a tropical storm, officials urge public to stay alert

Hana Elementary and High School are closed today and county officials asked visitors not to go to Hana as Tropical Storm Olivia continued to approach from the east.

Even though Olivia weakened to a tropical storm on Monday, Gov. David Ige and county officials advised residents to stay alert. Olivia was projected to pass directly over Maui County early Wednesday. The storm was located 380 miles east-northeast of Hilo and was moving at 10 mph, with sustained winds of 70 mph as of 5 p.m. Monday.

“The brunt of the storm . . . looks like it’s heading more toward Hana, so we’re expecting possible flooding in that area,” said Herman Andaya, director of the Maui County Emergency Management Agency.

“It’s a tropical storm, but nonetheless, it’s from what we’re told, a strong tropical storm. So we’re telling people to get their emergency kits ready, be informed and make a plan.”

The state Department of Education canceled after-school activities, including sports and After-School Plus (A+) Programs, at all Maui County and Hawaii County public schools. The University of Hawaii Maui College’s Hana Education Center is also closed until further notice.

Hana School Principal Rick Paul said that the cafeteria would open as a shelter at 8 a.m. today.

“We know areas that are prone to flooding on the campus, so we have sand bags prepositioned, and we’re as ready as we can be,” Paul said.

Neil Hasegawa, owner of Hase-gawa General Store in Hana, said that he would “play it by ear.”

“We’ll see what happens on Wednesday morning,” he said. “But we’ll plan to open as usual, unless it’s still windy and rainy, and we’re hoping that it’ll keep its same speed and not slow down like the last one.”

Hasegawa said Hurricane Lane “was a good wake-up call,” that forced people to stock up and prepare for a storm. Workers cleared away brush, branches and anything that could hit the general store in strong winds. He added that the impact from Lane was “nothing out of the ordinary” for Hana: none of the bridges flooded and the wind was “a nonevent.”

“Actually, I’m more worried (about Olivia) just because when I’m looking at all the storm tracks, it comes really close to Hana,” he said. “Basically there’s only so much you can do to your house and everything so it won’t blow away, but once it gets above a certain mile per hour, everything will go.”

Hasegawa said the delivery of main grocery items might be delayed from Oahu, but he still planned to send a truck out today to pick up normal cargo from local vendors. The store still had most storm-related items Monday, including water, batteries and tarps.

Maui County Managing Director Keith Regan asked visitors Monday to avoid going to the east side.

“Be very careful, because that is where a majority of the impacts are estimated to occur,” Regan said during a press conference on Oahu with Ige and emergency officials. “Please stay away from the Hana area until the storm is over.”

Airports, harbors and highways

All three Maui County ports — Kahului, Kaunakakai and Kaumalapau — closed at 8 p.m. Monday in preparation for the storm, said Duane Kim, Maui District Harbors Manager. Kim said the Matson yard at Kahului Harbor would remain open until noon today to allow truckers to pick up freight. Young Brothers opted to wrap up operations Monday and close today.

Kim said that Kahului Harbor will likely see a more direct impact from Olivia, which is coming from the northeast, than it did from Lane, which approached from the south.

Meanwhile, airports and highways remained open, though the state Department of Transportation encouraged air travelers to double check with airlines and motorists to use caution on roadways with a history of flooding, landslides, rockfalls or tree falls. Hawaiian Airlines waived reservation change fees for customers holding tickets for travel to, from, within and via Hawaii from today through Thursday. For more details, visit hawaiianairlines.com/alerts/travel-waiver-for-pacific-tropical-storm-olivia.

Tony Facemire, manager of the Kahului Costco, said the closure of the ports not only delays delivery of products, but also means items can be spoiled. He said Costco lost $280,000 worth of products due to Hurricane Lane. Some were spoiled and had to be tossed; others were frozen the day before their expiration dates and donated to the Maui Food Bank and Feed My Sheep.

As of Monday, the store was out of generators, lanterns and flashlights, but it still had other storm-related products, including batteries, tarps, canned goods and emergency food buckets with 214 freeze-dried meals that sell for $160.

“It’s not quite as bad as Lane, but we are extremely busy,” Facemire said. “The gas station lines, most of them have been backed up to the Alexander and Baldwin loop behind us.”

He said the product returns after Lane haven’t “been too bad.”

“We got a few generators back, a little bit of water back,” he said. “It wasn’t that much. Most of the items that came back were sealed and re-sellable.”

Lane also impacted delivery.

“Because of Lane, all the loads were delayed into Maui,” he said. “Well, everything hits at once, and when it all hit at once, there was so much product that came in to all of the stores or supply places.”

That means many products have been sitting at the harbor, tying up chassis that are used to transport containers from the harbors. Costco is running low on toilet paper and paper towels and has extra shipments at the harbor, but “this is one of those times when you need a chassis,” Facemire said.

State and county prepare

On Sunday, Ige signed an emergency proclamation that would provide relief for any damages or losses caused by Olivia in all counties statewide. During a news conference Monday, Ige said that equipment and personnel have been sent to the east sides of Hawaii island and Maui.

“As you know, there is only one Hana Highway, and it’s susceptible to landslides and other activity,” Ige said. “So we are making provisions to have repair equipment and road-clearing equipment in Hana, with personnel, ahead of the storm, so that should something happen, that we wouldn’t be stranded.”

Mayor Alan Arakawa also declared a state of emergency for Maui County.

During Lane, heavy rains wiped out a culvert in Haiku, creating a 13-foot gully that cut off three homes in a cul-de-sac. When asked whether there were other culverts or infrastructure that the county was concerned about, Andaya said, “I don’t know of any right now, but it’s something that we’ll continue to monitor.

“I know Public Works crews have been going out and cleaning out culverts, making sure that they’re open to allow the free flow of water,” he said.

Andaya said that the county will decide whether to close its offices once it has a better idea of when the storm will make landfall.

“As much as possible, we want to keep it open,” he said.

Many more people than usual visited the county website during Lane — average daily visits jumped from around 3,000 to 57,000, which Andaya sees as a good sign that people are trying to stay informed.

As of 5 p.m. Monday, Maui County was under a tropical storm warning, which means that tropical storm conditions are expected within 36 hours. Olivia was expected to produce 10 to 15 inches of total rainfall, with some areas getting 20 inches. The county was also under a flash-flood watch through Thursday night, with landslides expected, especially along Hana Highway. The county was also under a high-surf advisory through 6 p.m. Wednesday, with east-facing shores predicted to get surf of 10 to 14 feet today and rising to 12 to 20 feet tonight.

For Maui County-related updates, visit mauicounty.gov or call the Maui County automated information system at 986-1200. For National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration weather updates, visit weather.gov/hawaii or call (866) 944-5025. To track the storm, visit prh.noaa.gov/cphc/tcpages/?storm=Olivia.

For updates on school closures, visit hawaiipublicschools.org/Pages/Home.aspx; for charter school updates, visit chartercommission.hawaii.gov.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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