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Residents stockpile supplies as Hawaii braces for first hurricane in decades

31 August 2016, 14:25

Honolulu – Residents of Hawaii's Big Island were evacuating animals and stockpiling water on Tuesday, bracing for what could be the first hurricane to make landfall in the state in decades.

The National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning as the major Category 2 storm dubbed 'Madeline' hurtled west toward the island, urging residents to rush through preparations to protect themselves and their property and expect hurricane conditions within the next 36 hours.

"Hopefully our roofs stay on, and our houses don't float away or get blown away," said Big Island resident Mitzi Bettencourt, who boarded up walls of glass windows at her brother's oceanfront home. "It's like, 'Oh my God, are we going to get flattened or what?'"

Bettencourt, who lives in a subdivision called Kapoho Vacationland, manages several vacation rental properties and has her own home to worry about, which sits a few blocks from the ocean. She and her neighbours were stocking their pantries, stowing away lawn furniture and preparing for power outages.

"If they're not prepared now, they should get prepared fast," said Chevy Chevalier, a meteorologist with the weather service.

Emergency proclamation

Hurricane Madeline, which was downgraded from Category 3 to 2 on Tuesday, was weakening as it approached the islands. But it's expected to remain a hurricane as it passes the state, Chevalier said.

Forecasters are expecting Madeline to pass just south of the Big Island around 02:00 (local time) on Thursday. But if the storm track shifts slightly to the north, the eye of the storm could pass over land.

The last hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii was Hurricane Iniki in 1992, which hit Kauai, Chevalier said.

A second Pacific hurricane, called Lester, is still far from Hawaii, and it is expected to weaken to a tropical storm as it passes the state, Chevalier said.

Governor David Ige issued an emergency proclamation for both storms, which will allow the state to quickly spend money to alleviate disasters. "I urge you to take immediate steps to protect your families, loved ones, employees and property," Ige said in a statement.

The state Department of Education announced public schools would be closed on Wednesday and Thursday in anticipation of severe weather, and about a dozen schools were turned into emergency shelters.

Seek shelter

President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Oahu this week. The White House is tracking the weather developments closely, but it doesn't anticipate changing Obama's schedule.

The islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai were under a tropical storm watch, but there were no alerts for Oahu or Kauai.

On the Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was closing some areas on Tuesday, and park officials planned for the coastal lava viewing area to close by Wednesday morning. Some camping areas were closing, but guests staying at Kilauea Military Camp and Volcano House were allowed to shelter in place.

The US Coast Guard asked crews of barges and ships to prepare to leave Hilo Harbour and told ocean-going vessels to seek sheltered waters until storm conditions subside. Captain Mike Long said he expected to close Hilo Harbour to all traffic by 20:00 (local time) on Tuesday.

Hawaii County, which covers the Big Island, urged residents to re-stock their emergency kits with a flashlight, fresh batteries, cash and first-aid supplies. It recommended that residents create evacuation plans and secure outdoor furniture.

Hawaiian Airlines said customers holding tickets to or from Hawaii's Big Island from August 31 to September 1 would be allowed a one-time reservation change without a fee.

- AP

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