The heavy rains and winds from Hurricane Iselle should be felt by Maui County residents by this evening, according to the National Weather Service.
Maui County could see 40- to 50-mph winds, with possible stronger gusts, and 5 to 8 inches of rain and maybe even a foot in windward areas, said meteorologist Mike Cantin at a Honolulu news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Heavy surf is also expected with east-facing shores possibly already seeing 12- to 18-foot surf and south-facing shores getting hit with 10- to 15-foot surf.
Island Construction and Demolition workers (from left) Chris Rzonca, Russell Cataluna, Stan Naehu and Joe Texeira finish the concrete sides of a water meter box Wed-nesday at Wailuku Elementary School. Naehu said the crew was anxious to complete the job and fly home to Oahu before the arrival of the predicted storms.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Uptown Chevron does brisk business
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Kihei Canoe Club’s fleet of outrigger canoes are stationed on high ground Wednesday inside Kenolio Park near the Kihei Youth Center. Preparations were being made all around the county for the arrival of Iselle today.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
It is making a "bee-line toward the state," Cantin said.
As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, the center of Iselle was about 450 miles east-southeast of Hilo, according to the National Weather Service, which called it a "dangerous hurricane" that posed the greatest threat of flooding and property damage to windward areas of the Big Island. The storm was moving west-northwest at around 18 mph. Maximum sustained winds were blowing at 90 mph.
While Iselle was still expected to be at or near hurricane strength when it hits the Big Island this afternoon, it was expected to weaken when nearing Maui County, although moderate to high impacts of the system should still be felt, Cantin said.
Winds will be strong enough to take down trees and power poles, he said.
"There could certainly be thunderstorms, lightning and definitely very heavy rainfall. Winds may be strong enough to do minor structural damage," Cantin said in a later email to The Maui News. "Folks should definitely stay close to home and watch for the latest information. Travel is not recommended as the cyclone passes through."
Maui County remained under a tropical storm warning and flash flood watch on Wednesday.
In preparation, nonemergency Maui County employees will be sent home at noon today with most offices closing then. Maui County election officials will keep walk-in voting polls open until 4 p.m. at the Kalana O Maui Building and until 11:30 a.m. on Molokai. Today is the last day for walk-in voting before Saturday's primary election.
Maui County parks and recreation facilities will be closed as the storm threatens the islands. All swimming pools, the Waiehu Golf Course, community centers and other parks facilities will close from noon today until further notice. County campsites will be closed today through Sunday. County beach parks will be shuttered all day today until further notice; and all permitted commercial activities at county parks are canceled today and Friday and until beach parks reopen.
Maui County offices to be closed by noon today and at least Friday morning are: all Division of Motor Vehicles and Licensing offices, planning and permitting, water bill processing, parks permitting, Liquor Department testing and other offices that interact with the public on a regular basis.
County offices will remain closed at least through Friday morning as county officials evaluate the storm's aftermath.
Emergency personnel such as police, fire, road crews and Civil Defense will work during the duration of the storm.
State offices, including courthouses, will be closed beginning at noon today and shuttered all day Friday. (Deadlines for court documents due today or Friday have been extended to the end of working hours on Monday.)
Closed court offices include the Children's Justice Centers, Office of the Public Guardian and Driver's Education offices.
Family Court hearings scheduled at the Molokai Courthouse today and Friday will be rescheduled to Aug. 28 and 29.
Service will be temporarily suspended for The Maui Bus beginning this afternoon.
Public and private schools are closed today and will remain closed through Friday, according to school officials. All interscholastic athletic events and student activities are canceled.
The University of Hawaii Maui College will be closed from noon today through Friday.
Following in the wake of Iselle is Hurricane Julio. Forecasters expect it to slowly strengthen and pass north of the Big Island sometime this weekend.
By Wednesday at Kahului Airport, emergency equipment has been readied, including emergency generators, backhoes, front-end loaders and other equipment to make sure the airport is operational and that the runways can remain open if emergency supplies are airlifted to Maui, said Maui District Airports Manager Marvin Moniz.
Kahului Airport restaurants brought in extra water and food for travelers who may need to remain at the airport for long periods of time, he said.
As far as flight schedules, Moniz said that as of early Wednesday afternoon, there were no cancellations yet. He recommended that passengers check with their carriers regarding their flights.
If flight cancellations happen, Moniz said the airlines have a direct line to his office. Then his office staff will call the Maui Visitors Bureau and the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association for assistance.
Those agencies in turn will inform their members, who could inform visitors at hotels and condominiums by putting up fliers in the lobby to let travelers know of any flight changes.
Moniz added that he would have a better handle on any flight delays or cancellations this morning.
In the hours after Moniz spoke to The Maui News, Island Air announced that its flights to and from Maui and Lanai would be canceled this afternoon "out of concern for the safety of our guests and employees." The airline is suspending all of its scheduled flights on Friday. Island Air officials said they hope to resume flying on Saturday.
Island Air's last four Maui and Lanai flights are: a Honolulu to Kahului flight (410), leaving Honolulu at 11:50 a.m.; a Kahului to Honolulu flight (411), departing Kahului at 1:02 p.m.; a Honolulu to Lanai flight (304), leaving Honolulu at 9:50 a.m.; and a Lanai to Honolulu flight (303), departing Lanai at 10:50 a.m.
Hawaiian Airlines and Island Air have waived their reservation change fees and differences in fares for customers who need to change their travel plans because of Hurricanes Iselle and Julio. The fee waiver is in effect for travelers this week and next.
Hawaiian Airlines passengers flying today or Friday may change their flights through Aug. 12. All change fees and applicable difference in fares will be waived provided that changes are made in the same class of service (for example, coach to coach or first class to first class) and based on seat availability. Changes must be made by Hawaiian Airlines reservations personnel or in person at the airport.
For more information, call (800) 367-5320 or visit hawaiianairlines.com.
Island Air passengers ticketed for travel from today through Aug. 12 will be allowed to change their flights without charge by calling (800) 652-6541 during business hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. For flight time updates, visit flightinfo.islandair.com or facebook.com/islandairhawaii.
The Maui County Department of Water Supply advised residents and businesses to store water in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Iselle.
All irrigation systems and other nonessential uses of water should be shut off until further notice, and unnecessary use of water and the wastewater system should be minimized.
High winds or flooding may disrupt power supply to pumps that push water through the county's domestic water supply, the department said.
"Customers should store drinking water now for use during the storm in the event water service is shut off," water officials said. "Water and wastewater systems may be compromised if electricity cannot be supplied to power the pumps and motors in the distribution and transmission systems."
If there are power outages, the water department may shut off valves and isolate tanks to reduce risk of damage and water loss. If this occurs, water will be restored as soon as it is safe for water crews to go out and open lines and flush them, if necessary.
If a water problem occurs, call 270-7633.
On Wednesday, Mayor Alan Arakawa declared a state of emergency in Maui County with the approach of Hurricane Iselle.
In his proclamation, Arakawa said he was taking the action because Iselle was rapidly approaching the state and posed an imminent danger to residents and visitors.
His proclamation said there's a need for the government and private sectors to "mobilize and provide immediate services to island residents and to mitigate hazardous situations in advance of the weather effects from Hurricane Iselle."
Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a statewide emergency proclamation in anticipation of the arrival Hurricanes Iselle and Julio in Hawaii.
The statewide proclamation activates the Major Disaster Fund set aside by the Legislature for disaster relief, according to an announcement from the governor's office. It also allows easier access to emergency resources at the state and federal levels, along with the suspension of certain laws as needed for emergency purposes.
Maui's Voyaging canoe Mo'okiha o Pi'ilani suspended its sea trials. The voyaging canoe was brought to the boatyard at Mala Wharf in Lahaina until the tropical storms leave the islands.
Last weekend, the Mo'okiha crew sailed the 62-foot double-mast traditional canoe for the first time. They began taking their swimming and fitness tests and practiced man-overboard drills.
The canoe launched on July 11, after more than a decade of building and preparation.
* The Associated Press and Maui News Staff Writers Brian Perry and Eileen Chao contributed to this report. Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.