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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:34 a.m., Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Hurricane readiness urged after high winds

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Last week's roof-lifting windstorm was far short of hurricane strength but still served as a vivid reminder for state hurricane preparedness experts who fear homeowners would suffer devastating losses if the real thing arrived.

Sustained winds of 40 mph raked O'ahu Jan. 14 with gusts that measured 85 mph and 60 mph on official National Weather Service recording devices. Firefighters were kept busy responding to 112 calls to help with "blown roofs."

Nearly 70,000 customers on O'ahu lost power at some point, including thousands of Hawai'i Kai residents who went without power for nearly 24 hours.

But a hurricane would be worse.

"If we sustained this kind of damage due to near-tropical storm-force winds, then hurricane-force winds would produce greater damage than what we saw during this past storm," said Jim Weyman, director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center.

Meteorologists classify sustained winds of 74 mph or greater as hurricane-force winds. Winds between 39 mph and 73 mph are tropical storm-force winds.

The number of roof-related emergency calls and downed utility poles worries Weyman.

Winds snapped 19 utility poles along Kamehameha Highway just outside Wahiawa and forced police to close the roadway from Helemano to the Hale'iwa Bypass and Kaukonahua Road for hours.

"During a hurricane we would have more of that and electricity would be out for a greater amount of time," Weyman said.

Many of the Kamehameha Highway poles were new and Hawaiian Electric Co. officials are trying to figure out what caused them to fall so easily, said spokesman Jose Dizon. HECO and Verizon Hawai'i lost 41 jointly owned poles to wind, he said. Verizon lost another 30 poles.

"That's something we have to look at," Dizon said. "Those are brand new poles. Two years old. Why would new poles fall the way they did? Obviously, wind was a factor, but what else did that?"

Homeowners who sighed with relief that their roofs escaped damage when a neighbor's did not, still need to consider strengthening their house with hurricane clips, said Glenn Lockwood, director of disaster services for the Hawai'i State Chapter of the American Red Cross.

"People should not think they are safe because they didn't sustain damage, that their property went unscathed," Lockwood said. "They need to be prepared all the time. They need to follow the guidelines about being prepared."

Strong winds can act capriciously and mow down a row of homes on one side of the street and leave homes on the other side untouched, he said. But people only associate this with tornadoes. Surviving last week's storm could lead to complacency.

"We saw this with Hurricane 'Iniki," he said. "If we get those hurricane-force winds, we will see major damage. If a storm like this will create this damage, the question has to be asked: What will happen when we get a hurricane?"