Hurricane kit urged despite mild forecast
|•||Special report: Disaster preparedness|
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
By Derrick DePledge
Two to three tropical cyclones could move through the central Pacific over the next several months, a forecast that is slightly below average but still potentially dangerous for Hawai'i.
The federal government's Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu released its prediction yesterday along with a reminder for people to have an emergency evacuation plan and a week's supply of food, water, medicine and other necessities ready in case of a violent storm. The hurricane season runs from June through November.
Historically, four to five tropical cyclones occur in the central Pacific during hurricane season, but the number has been below or at average for the past nine years. The forecast yesterday was based on near-normal tropical ocean temperatures and a prediction of fewer storms in the eastern Pacific, where central Pacific storms often originate.
Jim Weyman, director of the hurricane center, said he is concerned the forecast may lead some people not to worry. But he said it is inevitable that another hurricane will hit the Islands. Hurricane Iniki, the state's last devastating storm, struck Kaua'i in 1992.
"For business and families, a simple planning day could make all the difference between, really, life and death when a hurricane strikes," Weyman said.
Gov. Linda Lingle signed three bills into law yesterday that will provide $9 million for emergency readiness, increase criminal penalties for looting or endangering emergency workers, and require the state to identify emergency shelters suitable for pets. The state budget also includes $4 million to help retrofit shelters, most of which are at public schools.
NEW SHELTER SPACES
State officials, like many across the country, evaluated emergency evacuation plans and shelter capacity last September after seeing the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. The state found that it was short 124,000 shelter spaces and had no shelters designated to help the elderly, the disabled or people with medical needs.
The state estimated it would cost $35 million to provide adequate shelter space, but the Lingle administration asked the state Legislature for $4 million because of doubts that all the work could be done at one time.
Eight months later, state officials acknowledge that the shelter assessment is essentially the same as it was last September.
Ed Teixeira, vice director of state Civil Defense, said the $4 million approved by the Legislature will help provide about 20,000 new shelter spaces. He said the state has done some design work and will start to identify which shelters can be used by people with special needs.
Eventually, he said, a special-needs shelter and a pet shelter might be located in every population cluster so people do not have to travel too far. But he said there will likely not be a detectable improvement on shelters until later this year or before next year's hurricane season.
"It takes awhile for money to get moving, in terms of getting it into the procurement system," Teixeira said.
Lingle said the emergency readiness money from the Legislature was a good start and also stressed the need for personal responsibility to prepare for a hurricane or other natural disaster. The governor said she will ask people if they have hurricane kits when she speaks at events over the next several months.
"I think the point that Jim is making about the individual responsibility is critical," Lingle told reporters while touring the hurricane center with Weyman. "It doesn't cost anything, except, you know, the cost of buying three to five days of food. It doesn't cost you anything to sit down with your family and develop a plan. Those are the kinds of things that can take the load off of government, off the Red Cross, if people would take a lot of personal responsibility.
"So we're going to be pressing for that, as well."
LIMITED HELP AVAILABLE
Some state lawmakers wanted to do more last session to provide hazard and risk-assessment maps to give homeowners and businesses more information about tsunami or hurricane dangers.
House lawmakers also wanted to create a new commission, which would include emergency response, real estate, insurance and other experts, to oversee emergency preparedness.
But negotiations between the House and Senate broke down at the end of session.
"This legislative session, the solution to disaster preparedness in Hawai'i was to throw money at the problem, with no clear strategy, and simply hope that the problem resolves itself," state Rep. Bob Herkes, D-5th (Ka'u, S. Kona), said this month.
Reach Derrick DePledge at email@example.com.