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by Liane Nakahara, student writer

Earthquakes aren’t the only natural disaster that can trigger major power failures. Heavy rains and strong winds from hurricane systems can also knock down power lines.

Hawai‘i’s location in warm Pacific waters makes it vulnerable to hurricanes and other storm systems. That is why representatives from the State Civil Defense, State Insurance Commissioner’s Office, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hawai‘i State Department of Defense, and other public organizations and private companies gathered in late September at an informational workshop open to the public.

Many experts at the workshop agreed that since Hawai‘i hasn’t had a major hurricane since Iniki in 1992, it is just a matter of time before another hurricane hits the islands. Iniki was a category three hurricane, with winds up to 130 miles per hour. Kauai felt the brunt of the storm and suffered the most damage, as it also did during hurricane Iwa, which hit 10 years earlier.

“ Most in Hawai‘i don’t feel a threat and think that only Kauai gets hit, but that’s not true,” said Jim Weyman, director of NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center. “All the islands are at equal risk.”
Hurricane season in Hawai‘i begins June 1 and lasts through Nov. 30 each year. This is when a hurricane is most likely to develop near Hawai‘i, although NOAA reminds people that it is possible for one to form at any time of the year. And as KGMB-TV weather anchor Guy Hagi has been reminding viewers, an el-nino weather pattern, such as the one developing now in the Central Pacific, often means a longer hurricane season.

On average, the Central Pacific region sees five storm systems and about one hurricane each year, according to NOAA. Hurricanes generally begin as a tropical depression and strengthen to become tropical storms. Once the winds reach 74 miles per hour, the storm becomes a category one hurricane. Each category indicates a significant increase in wind speed, with the category five rating, the highest, going to a storm with winds of 155 mph and higher.

These winds are strong enough to rip houses right off of their foundations and knock over trees, said Weyman, who added that although a category five hurricane has never been recorded in Hawai‘i, three were tracked in the Central Pacific region in 1994.

If a hurricane does form near Hawai‘i, the State Civil Defense Agency will issue alerts keeping everyone up to date on the path of the storm. A Civil Defense storm “watch” means that the hurricane or other big storm will possibly reach the islands within 36 hours. If the storm is expected within 24 hours, a “warning” is issued.

People advised by Civil Defense to evacuate their homes should head for a shelter, usually a gymnasium or a school cafeteria. The list of hurricane shelters can be found on the O‘ahu Civil Defense Agency’s Web site or in the local telephone book, and includes includes Waikiki Elementary and Kailua High School, both of which are close to where large numbers of HPU students reside.
Experts at the workshops strongly encouraged Hawai‘i residents to prepare a supply kit to bring with them to the shelter. The kit should include water, food, flashlight, radio, and extra batteries and clothes.

“ What some people do is, before the food expires, they donate it to food drives and buy new ones for their kit. It benefits everyone,” said Weyman.

Vice Director of State Civil Defense Ed Teixeira explained that the state has been working with the federal government to get increased funding for disaster relief programs. Hawai‘i has also made progress in organizing emergency response plans for city, state, and federal teams during such an event.

Jasmin Rodriguez of the Castle Medical Center marketing department related natural disasters here to her experience in New York City during 9/11. She stressed the importance of a clear flow of communication between government officials and the health care providers during a disaster. A system for communicating key information must be in place before an emergency and it must be available during and after an emergency. This is why O‘ahu Civil Defense recommends that people not use their telephones during a disaster except for emergencies.

However, no matter how much a state prepares, its residents and visitors must be aware of potential storms. Teixeira said: “It all comes down to the individuals. That’s the core. That’s the bottom line.”

For more information on severe weather preparedness, visit www.kgmb9.com, www.scd.state.hi.us/, www.co.honolulu.hi.us/ocda/index1.htm, or www.weather.gov/hawaii




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