$25B damage if big storm hit O'ahu
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By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
A new computer model designed for an annual statewide hurricane preparedness exercise showed that a fictitious Category 4 hurricane that makes landfall at Pearl Harbor, Honolulu International Airport and parts of downtown Honolulu would cause at least $25 billion in damage, mostly on O'ahu.
Officials stress that the exercise, dubbed Makani Pahili Hawaiian for "hurricane" does not predict that the storm will actually form and was used only to test communications and other plans for a worst-case scenario.
But the May 11 to 18 exercise was part of the annual preparations for hurricane season, which runs from June through November. After the exercise, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced its forecast of two to three tropical depressions, tropical storms or hurricanes forming in the Central Pacific this year.
The forecast by Jim Weyman, director of NOAA's Central Pacific Hurricane Center, was identical to last year's.
But it was a closely guarded secret because the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has begun trading in hurricane futures, Weyman said, and NOAA officials now need to be particularly careful about their predictions.
Last year, the Central Pacific experienced five tropical "cyclones" the umbrella term that covers tropical depressions, storms and hurricanes.
And while the number of cyclones is expected to be slightly below average this hurricane season, Gov. Linda Lingle emphasized yesterday that it only takes one hurricane to do significant damage to the Islands.
Hurricane Iniki, Lingle reminded everyone, hit Kaua'i on Sept. 11, 1992, when she was then mayor of Maui. Iniki caused $2.6 billion in damage.
"I'm happy to say that it's been a very uneventful year hurricane-wise since we were here last year," Lingle said at NOAA's Central Pacific Hurricane Center at the University of Hawai'i. "But we know that part of that is just good luck. ... We know that eventually, another hurricane is going to strike us."
PREPARATION IS KEY
One of the keys to good hurricane preparedness, Lingle said, could lie with Hawai'i's children, who have successfully encouraged their parents to make positive changes like recycling and quitting smoking.
Lingle encouraged families across the state to create and maintain emergency plans and disaster supply kits to include things like 1 gallon of water per day per person for at least three to seven days, first-aid kits, flashlights, cash, tools, pet-care items and important documents.
"It's important to remind everyone this is very serious business," Lingle said. "I also am reluctant to do this, but I think in candor it's important to share with the public that if there is a serious hurricane that hits us, it may take government awhile to get to them, so that they need to have their own supplies. ... We're going to focus on those who are the most in need, the infirm ... the hospitals, the senior citizens, people with special needs. ... For an average citizen in an average family, it may take us longer. So this preparedness kit is critically important."
In the annual Makani Pahili exercise, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center, state and county civil defense, the military and the Hawai'i chapter of the American Red Cross reviewed their plans in the event a Category 4 hurricane headed toward O'ahu.
Meteorologists still debate Iniki's force, Weyman said, but by comparison, it looked to be a Category 3 right before it hit and was running as a "high Category 2" when it struck. (Hurricane Katrina, whose rain devastated New Orleans, was a Category 3 storm.)
The fictitious Category 4 hurricane would devastate the transportation hub of the Islands, which would be critical for getting people, food, supplies and recovery workers in and out of devastated areas.
In the exercise, unconfirmed reports in the first six to seven hours after the hurricane's impact would see 63 people dead on O'ahu, said Ray Lovell, spokesman for state Civil Defense. The figures were used only to test response and were not based on a projection. The exercise was not designed to predict the number of casualties.
Another 60,000 people on O'ahu would be without shelter and 37,000 Waikiki tourists would not be able to leave. Some 16,000 residents would be displaced on Kaua'i and Maui. Six more people would be dead on Maui.
The figures would certainly change as the damaged areas are more closely inspected, Lovell said.
"Communications are going to be pretty rough there for a while," he said. "It could still be several days down the road before you get solid figures. (In the exercise), we don't have all of the injury figures. And the death toll could be a lot higher."
Yesterday, Lingle declared May 20 to 26 Hurricane Preparedness Week and signed four bills designed to help Hawai'i deal with and recover from natural disasters:
Reach Dan Nakaso at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An annual hurricane preparedness exercise involving federal, state and county agencies last week was not designed to predict the number of casualties in Hawai'i from a Category 4 hurricane. The figures, including 72 fatalities, provided by state civil defense were used only to test response and were not based on a projection. A previous version of this story contained incorrect information.