Officials urge hurricane preparedness amid ongoing pandemic

With Tropical Storm Douglas strengthening in the Eastern Pacific as the cyclone marched toward Hawaii Tuesday, state officials took to social media to emphasize the importance of being prepared for a hurricane amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We can’t forget that Hawaii is subject to hurricanes and that all of you need to be prepared in the event that we get a hurricane,” Gov. David Ige said after reminding residents to remain vigilant in stopping the spread of COVID-19 during a live-streamed Community Connection event on Facebook.

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As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Douglas was packing 65 mph winds with higher gusts as it tracked west at 14 mph some 1,955 miles east of Hilo, according to the National Hurricane Center. Additional strengthening was forecast and Douglas was expected to be upgraded to hurricane strength late Tuesday or Wednesday.

Forecasters don’t expect that the tropical cyclone will remain at hurricane strength for long, stating that it should reach peak intensity Thursday before starting to weaken Friday as it crosses into the Central Pacific, which is where Hawaii is located.

“Currently, the track brings (Douglas) very close up to the islands. We do expect the storm to increase in size, maybe get up to a major hurricane, before starting to weaken. Fortunately, at this time, to the southeast of the Hawaiian Islands is some relatively cool water, and if that cool water runs where the tropical system goes, it will induce some weakening,” Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Luke Meyers said. “We do anticipate some impacts from this storm as we get into weekend, into early next week but as of this time we just continue to monitor and get ready with our partners.”

By Sunday, Douglas is expected to be a tropical storm, packing 60 mph winds some 130 miles east of Hilo, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Typically, it takes about five days for a storm traveling between 10 mph and 15 mph to reach the Hawaiian Islands after crossing into the basin, Meyers said.

“That gives us several days to get ready, prepared, as a tropical system may start to encroach on us,” he explained.

Being prepared means knowing the hazards, signing up for emergency alerts, developing an emergency plan and having at least 14 days of supplies, including water, food, medication and other necessities. This year, the emergency supply kit should also have hand sanitizers and masks due to the pandemic.

“We do acknowledge that there is economic impact that is affecting many of family and friends in the islands and we also understand there is a lot of stress on the emotional side so talk to someone, reach out to someone continue to build your kit,” Meyers said, encouraging those experiencing hard times due to the pandemic to do their best to be prepared.

As always, shelter openings — if necessary — will be determined by each county with the assistance of the American Red Cross, Meyers said. Because of social distancing requirements, there will be limited capacity at some shelters and other facilities may be used.

“We do always recommend that family and friends shelter where they are most comfortable — at home or at a relative’s or friend’s place before they would go to a community shelter,” Meyers said. He also reminded the public that to enter an emergency shelter they would have to undergo a health screening and temperature checks.

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Some conversation has taken place about the potential for using hotels as emergency shelter to increase capacity during the pandemic, but nothing has come to fruition, he said.

“We’ve had some conversations but nothing specifically has been identified as this time that would be an emergency protective measure that could be leveraged as the storm is approaching,” Meyers aid.

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