Hurricane season is upon us — so be ready
By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Karen Blakeman
Hurricane season begins today, and although a below-average number of tropical cyclones are expected in the Central Pacific this year, weather and Civil Defense officials would like to add a caveat to that prediction:
"It only takes one," said Jim Weyman, director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center at the National Weather Service in Honolulu.
Making plans to survive a hurricane — and its aftermath — could be the difference between life and death, Weyman and Civil Defense authorities said.
Double-checking what those plans should involve is also essential, according to the American Red Cross.
Results of a national survey released last month by the Red Cross show that although 52 percent of U.S. families now have some form of disaster-preparedness kit — a higher percentage than in previous years — only 23 percent realize that it should contain at least 1 gallon of water per person for each day of the emergency.
In addition to water, each kit should contain enough nonperishable food to last each person in the family five to seven days and enough of each person's regular medications to last the same period. A can opener, flashlights with replacement batteries and a battery-operated radio are key. Each person will need clothing and personal hygiene supplies — including toilet paper — to last through the emergency. Because shelters will provide only a few feet of safe space per person, sleeping bags or air mattresses and blankets, as well as plates and cutlery, are important. Essential family documents should be kept in an easily accessible place and carried along with the kit in an emergency.
Weyman said some residents fail to prepare because they rely on myths that have developed around hurricane season in Hawai'i. Ignoring the threat of a hurricane by thinking that Kaua'i is the only island at risk, or that parts of the Big Island would be protected from hurricanes because of the height of its mountains, could also be fatal, Weyman said.
"A study done in the 1990s shows that all the islands are at equal risk," he said. "And the Big Island would not deflect a hurricane. It would have about as much effect as a speed bump."
Weyman said two or three tropical storms are expected to make their way into the Central Pacific this year, compared with the average of four to five. Although the season officially starts today, Weyman said, activity usually begins in July, peaks in August, and continues into September.
The intensity of the storms is not part of the forecast, he said. "Below average" pertains only to the number of tropical cyclones and has nothing to do with the nastiness of any particular storm.
"But forget the numbers," he said. "It only takes one hurricane hitting your house to make for a very bad day."
The days that follow probably won't be very pleasant, either.
"The government is going to need time to re-marshal," Weyman said. "I stress and stress and stress that people are going to have to depend on themselves for about the first five days, and being prepared to do that could save their lives or their families' lives."
John Cummings III, spokesman for Oahu Civil Defense, agreed that planning for self-sufficiency in the initial aftermath of a hurricane or other disaster is essential.
"We tell people 72 hours, but Hurricane Katrina victims went quite awhile longer than that without any kind of help, so five days is probably better," he said. "Hawai'i is an insular state, and it would be easy for us to become isolated."
Ray Lovell, spokesman for state Civil Defense, said a direct hit on O'ahu by a Category 4 hurricane could cut off all supplies for at least five days because harbors and the airport would likely be damaged.
"Even if relief is sent from the Mainland," he said, "it will take us a while to clear out enough to bring it in."
In addition to stocking a disaster-preparedness kit, hurricane preparation means knowing how family members will contact one another and where they will meet in the event of an emergency.
Because phone service is likely to be affected, Civil Defense authorities in Hawai'i recommend that family members select an out-of-state relative or friend to act as a conduit of information. During the aftermath of Hurricane Iniki, Kaua'i residents were in telephone contact with the Mainland, but were unable to telephone neighbors across the street.
Family members should agree on a place to meet in the event that a disaster strikes when they are apart, then plans should be made for a backup meeting place in the event that the preferred meeting place is inaccessible. Notes should be left when telephone contact is unavailable.
When sheltering in the home, a safe room — a space with no windows or few windows — should be selected.
In the event that they are directed to evacuate their homes, family members should know how to turn off all utilities and lock all windows and doors. Sliding glass doors should be wedged at the top.
Photos and other important items that can't be carried should be stored in a windowless room above flood risk levels.
Also in the event that evacuation is ordered, each family member should know the location of the nearest shelter and of a backup shelter as well.
Although state Civil Defense is working with other agencies to fix the problem, Hawai'i does not have adequate shelter space if widespread disaster should strike.
Expanding shelter space for residents with special needs is high on the state's list, Lovell said.
Space for pet owners to evacuate with their pets is unavailable now, but Lovell said the state is working with the Hawaiian Humane Society to determine whether parking structures, such as the one at the Neal Blaisdell Center, could be reinforced with a special screening and used as drive-in shelter space for families with pets.
"Everybody who is working on this is optimistic we can do it," Lovell said of the state's plans to expand shelter space. "It won't be done in six months, though. With the population growing the way it is, it will probably always be ongoing."
Reach Karen Blakeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.