Maui in Olivia’s sights

Though weaker than Lane, path may wreak more havoc

Pedestrians cross Hana Highway in Paia on Tuesday as rain runoff flows into a storm drain. Tropical Storm Olivia was beginning to make its presence felt. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — Growing weaker but moving faster, Tropical Storm Olivia prepared to make landfall in Maui County overnight, bringing wind and rainfall to areas already saturated by Hurricane Lane a couple of weeks ago.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Olivia was located about 145 miles east of Kahului and 115 miles east of Hana and was on track to pass directly over Maui County. The storm packed maximum sustained winds of 50 mph and was moving west at 15 mph — less powerful but faster than earlier in the day.

“We’re looking at Olivia coming pretty much directly at us,” Mayor Alan Arakawa said Tuesday morning. “We’re very, very happy that it’s slowing down the intensity. . . . At the same time, we are in the direct line, and we will have to be prepared for anything that may happen.”

Kevin Kodama, forecaster with the National Weather Service in Honolulu, said Tuesday afternoon that the storm would likely make landfall “sometime tonight.”

“Can’t get more specific,” he said.

Paia-bound traffic disappears into the mist as rain blankets the coastline Tuesday afternoon. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“The worst conditions are going to be along the windward slopes of both the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala,” Kodama said. “Hana Highway is going to be pretty nasty out there.”

Kodama said it’s “not just going to be a windy trade wind day” and warned that the storm can contain gusts stronger than the maximum sustained winds. Also, because it’s no longer a hurricane, Olivia does not have an eye of calm in the center.

“When you have this type of weaker system, the winds actually start spreading out over a wide area, so you could have some tropical storm-force winds, especially north of the center,” Kodama explained.

Kodama added that Hurricane Lane that passed by the islands in late August “was a more intense storm, but it never hit land, and it stayed far enough away where we never really got into the worst wind conditions.

“But with Olivia, it’s going to hit the state someplace,” he said. “We’re past the point where it’s going to miss. It’s too close. <\q>.<\q>.<\q>. Even though this system is weaker, the impacts could actually be worse than with Lane, especially if we’re talking about Maui County.”

Mayor Alan Arakawa discusses the potential impacts of Tropical Storm Olivia during a news conference Tuesday morning at the county building. Olivia was projected to hit Maui County straight on Tuesday night. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Herman Andaya, head of the county’s Emergency Management Agency, said Tuesday that county Department of Public Works employees were out in Hana and would be working overnight. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also sent a 35-member swift water rescue team to the area, and the National Guard deployed 12 search-and-rescue personnel and four trucks.

“In this case here, we’re really leaning forward, being proactive,” Andaya said. “We know that it’s Hana that’s going to be most impacted by this storm, so we want to make sure we have the resources and the personnel there ready to react.”

The state Department of Transportation said Tuesday that it was preparing for impacts along Hana Highway, including clearing culverts and stationing equipment in East Maui. From Aug. 23 to 28 with Lane, the department responded to more than a dozen landslide and tree fall events along the highway, and it urged drivers unfamiliar with the route to avoid the area.

Arakawa said that East Maui was already over-saturated from recent rains.

“Our crews are very experienced in being able to clear the landslides and allow traffic to pass, but depending on the severity of Olivia, it will depend on how soon we can get the roads open,” Arakawa said. “So just be patient. This is not something that’s going to take weeks or months to repair. More than likely within 24 hours, everything will be close to normal.”

Wailuku town was overcast and rainy Tuesday morning. In addition to landslides in East Maui, Mayor Alan Arakawa said he was concerned about flooding in Iao Valley, with the West Maui Mountains expecting rain from Olivia. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Molokai also is directly within the path of Olivia and “can expect to have a pretty strong hit,” the mayor said.

“The preparation for Lanai and Molokai is pretty solid,” Arakawa said. “We have crews there that have been preparing for storms for a long time. They’re very experienced. And because the population bases are fairly localized, they’re not scattered all over the place, we have the system in place to be able to help almost everyone.”

Because of the recent rains and fires, the county also is keeping an eye out for flooding in Iao Valley and landslides and runoff in West Maui, Arakawa said. During and after Hurricane Lane, four fires scorched about 2,500 acres in Maalaea, Olowalu, Lahaina and Kaanapali.

“We just went through a previous hurricane and a lot of flooding, so a lot of the soil is very moist, and in the case of Lahaina where we had four major fires, we don’t have any of the vegetation now to be able to prevent the landslides and mudslides,” Arakawa said. “And the burn is right above the city. So we anticipate there might be some real problem with ash and rubble coming down the hillside.”

Arakawa also advised visitors in West Maui to “stay put” if the storm surge impacts Honoapiilani Highway.

“We’re very concerned that if there’s a heavy storm surge, and Honoapiilani Highway gets buried by heavy waves or debris, people have to wait at hotels,” he said. “Do not try and go through if the ‘road closed’ signs are up. And don’t chance it around Kahakuloa way because that’s an even more treacherous road. Stay put, anchor down. It may mean rearranging some of the flights, but I’m sure the airlines will accommodate because of the emergency situation.”

Hawaiian Airlines said that all ‘Ohana by Hawaiian flights in and out of Kahului, Molokai, Lanai and Kapalua would be canceled today, though transpacific flights would continue as scheduled. The airline told passengers to visit hawaiianairlines.com for updates.

Arakawa and Gov. David Ige have already declared a state of emergency for both the county and the state, respectively. On Tuesday, Ige also asked President Donald Trump to declare Hawaii a major disaster area in case Olivia causes significant damage and losses. Ige also asked the U.S. Department of Defense for support and resources, including airlifts between islands, temporary power generation at evacuation centers, search and rescue and potential medical evacuations.

Arakawa said that the shelters “should be a last resort” and reminded evacuating residents to bring their own food, water and other emergency supplies.

“Please ensure your family has an emergency kit, shelter in place unless advised otherwise, and plan for power outages and flooded roads, fallen trees, landslides and high surf,” Arakawa said. “We remind residents not to focus on the exact forecast track or intensity of Olivia and be prepared for changes in future forecasts. Also, keep in mind that just because Olivia is forecast to be a weaker storm than Lane, the impacts could be significantly worse.”

Maui County was still under a tropical storm warning Tuesday. Tropical storm force winds were expected to arrive Tuesday night. Total rainfall of 10 to 15 inches has been predicted, with some areas seeing 20 inches. Olivia is also expected to generate high surf along east-facing shores over the next couple of days. A flash-flood watch was still in effect for the county through late Thursday.

The state Department of Health posted a brown water advisory for the island of Maui, advising the public to stay out of floodwaters and storm runoff.

The county Department of Water Supply also advised all customers to conserve water when Olivia hits, due to high winds and/or flooding that could disrupt the power supply to water sources. Customers should have enough water to last 14 days — at least 1 gallon of water per person per day, as well as water for pets.

Maui Electric Co. already was busy restoring power to customers in Kula on Tuesday after tree branches fell on lines along Kekaulike Highway. The utility said outages were expected during the storm. MECO’s Kahului offices were closed today.

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.

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

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