Big Island braces for Hurricane Flossie
|Photo gallery: Getting ready for Hurricane Flossie|
|Photo gallery: Stormchasers|
|Video: Flying into the eye of Flossie|
|||Forecasters say Flossie won't hit Hawaii hard|
|Video: Getting ready for Hurricane Flossie|
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HILO, Hawai'i — Shoppers scooped up flashlights and bottled water and officials shuttered schools and parks as Hurricane Flossie stayed on course to brush past the Big Island today, bringing wind, rain and monster surf.
Flossie was spinning its way along a path that would take it within 90 miles of South Point, the southernmost point of the United States, around 3 p.m. this afternoon as it stirs up waves of 15 to 20 feet on southeast-facing shores.
Surf was rising at 11 last night, reaching 8 to 12 feet at Kalapana and Pohoiki, and 6 to 8 feet at Punalu'u. But there was little to no wind, and a light rain that fell was not related to Flossie, officials said.
At 11 p.m., Flossie was about 260 miles south-southeast of Hilo. The National Weather Service said it saw a "clear weakening trend" as wind shear was breaking up Flossie. Sustained winds were 115 mph and a hurricane watch and tropical storm warning remained in effect for the Big Island.
"This is too close for comfort," said Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, the state's adjutant general and head of state Civil Defense.
By about 10 p.m., about 73 Big Island residents had showed up at Red Cross hurricane shelters.
The fullest shelter was Wai'akea High, where about 30 people planned to spend the night. About 28 people were at Pahoa High and Intermediate School.
Troy Kindred, administrator for the Hawai'i County Civil Defense Agency, said residents who go to shelters should have a 72-hour emergency kit. He said they shouldn't assume the shelters will provide food, cots or other essentials.
Residents and business owners covered their windows in plywood or tape yesterday. Shoppers stocked up on items such as propane, toilet paper and bottled water — even on O'ahu.
The Iwilei Costco was busier than normal yesterday with customers lining up at the gas pumps and constantly emptying store shelves of bottled water, said Keith Nomura, the store's assistant manager.
"We're moving a little bit more toilet paper than usual, but water's my biggest item," Nomura said. "That's what everybody's stocking up on."
By last night, the store had gone through three shipping containers worth of bottled water, Nomura said.
On the Big Island yesterday, the Hilo and Kailua, Kona, Wal-Mart stores extended their hours to remain open 24 hours to serve people preparing for Flossie.
With the sky full of dark clouds, shoppers tromped out of Wal-Mart in Hilo with cartloads of water, canned food, candles and other supplies. The Wal-Mart parking lot — just like KTA and Safeway — was packed.
"I'm shocked to see how busy it is," said Lorrie Cruz, who was shopping at Wal-Mart yesterday. "I'm anxious to see how it plays out."
The Hilo Wal-Mart ran out of bottled water until employees restocked the shelves with a new shipment. But both the Hilo Wal-Mart and Home Depot no longer had flashlights.
"I just bought the last candle," said May Rios, as she walked out of Wal-Mart with a shopping cart loaded with supplies — but no bread. With her three young children in tow, Rios headed off in search of bread for her family.
"No bread at all," she said. "The shelves are empty."
The rush on stores is a good sign, county officials said, because it means people are taking the warnings about Flossie seriously.
"I'm hoping it's not going to be that bad," said Steve Morse, 45, of Pepe'ekeo, as he waited in a line for propane along with 20 others in a small gravel parking lot in Hilo.
Morse waited to fill two tanks with propane.
On a normal day, about 400 gallons of propane are sold in the parking lot. But yesterday, customers had already bought 1,700 gallons.
Kindred wanted residents to stock up and prepare their homes for high winds and heavy rain. He also urged residents to take evacuation warnings seriously.
"This is potentially a very dangerous storm," Kindred said. "We want the public to be informed."
As for tourists, Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said all Big Island hotels have warned their guests of Flossie's potential and are planning to evacuate on-site if necessary.
Visitors planning trips to the Big Island should not cancel their plans, Kim said. But he cautioned that some airlines could cancel flights and Big Island airports could close. "The hotels and resorts have very good emergency plans," Kim said.
Flossie arrived in Hawaiian waters this weekend as a Category 4 hurricane, then dropped its punch yesterday to a Category 3.
Forecasters have said that Flossie could drop to a Category 1 hurricane, which carries winds of at least 74 mph.
The National Weather Service warned that even slight shifts in its path to the north would produce even higher winds.
"The Big Island will see the onset of tropical storm-force winds ... 39 mph and higher," according to the National Weather Service. "East to southeast winds of 40 to 50 mph with higher gusts are likely as Hurricane Flossie passes south of the Big Island during the day Tuesday."
Ten inches or more of rainfall was forecast for the Ka'u District of the Big Island through tonight. Up to 10 inches of rain was forecast for Hilo, Puna and other eastern slopes of the Big Island.
Flossie continued to generate hurricane-force winds up to 40 miles from its center and tropical-storm-force winds up to 140 miles.
STATE OF EMERGENCY
Kim yesterday declared a state of emergency on the Big Island. A flash-flood watch also was issued for the Big Island through tomorrow.
Gov. Linda Lingle also signed a proclamation giving Lee emergency disaster powers, such as the authority to activate Hawai'i National Guard units and use $2 million in state funds for disaster relief.
Lee told Kim that National Guard units are ready to assist a cavalry squadron of 400 on the Big Island and that 11 40-foot-long containers of emergency supplies are already available if needed.
All National Guard helicopters are also on alert, Lee said. Kim said first-responders should ready themselves for high surf, heavy rains and strong winds.
"Let's all hope for the best," Kim told representatives from county emergency agencies, utility companies and others at an afternoon briefing.
The worst-case scenario would occur if Flossie turns north, Kim said, putting it on a course to hit the Big Island directly.
As a precaution, all schools — private, public and the University of Hawai'i — will be closed today, along with all parks, trails and libraries. Kamehameha Schools also canceled all classes and activities, such as athletic practices and games, for its Big Island students.
The county issued no mandatory evacuation orders, but asked people in the Vacationland subdivision to leave because the area is low-lying.
"The highest danger we have will be that of surf," Kim said. "We are fortunate in the sense that the approach of the storm is from the east-southeast, and that is the most sparsely populated part of the island."
With a population of about 150,000, the Big Island remains mostly rural. Most people live in the west or northeast, not the southern portion expected to be hit hardest by Flossie.
At a Salvation Army home for troubled kids in Hilo, more than a dozen windows were braced with tape placed in a large "X." Six children live at the home, staff members said.
"We got our batteries, our flashlights, our propane," said residential specialist Darren Pascual. "We're praying it (Flossie) keeps on the direction it's going" and avoids a direct hit on the Big Island.