ALOHA FROM LINDA AND JENNIE: We thought that it might be neat to do some 'real time' blogging this week and share with you our experiences as Hawaii deals with Hurricanes Iselle and Julio, plus a 4.5 magnitude earthquake that popped in just to make things interesting.
Tuesday - The calm before the storm:
For some unknown reason, bottled water seems to have become a fixation for islanders. Normally, there is a run on bathroom tissue, batteries and Spam, but because bottled water supplies are running low, a case that usually costs $5-7 is going for higher in stores (if even available) and $100 on Craigslist. Hmm, whatever happened to filling up clean jugs of perfectly good Hawaiian tap water and freezing/storing those.
Because it has been over two decades since the last Hawaiian hurricane strike, and so many storm and tsunami events have 'fizzled' since then, Iselle and Julio do not seem too threatening as they're still over 1,000 miles away. Residents are commenting that the names of prior hurricanes which struck Hawaii also began with "I" (Iwa and Iniki). With the sunny skies, it seems like a normal Hawaiian day other than the long lines at the stores.
Wednesday - Ramp up: Iselle is still 700 miles away from the Big Island but forecasts now indicate that it'll be a category 1 hurricane when passing directly over Hawaii, and then become a tropical storm running along the southern coasts of the remaining island chain.
News updates throughout the day have become more frequent, as the governor, Honolulu mayor, and state agencies hold press conferences. A Big Island Red Cross truck was stolen--its license number has been published and police are looking for it. Tourists are scrambling to visit various sites before inclement weather arrives -- Hanauma Bay visitors were turned away because 500 plus vehicles on the one lane highway caused a backlog. Linda gets a stream of calls from mainland family and friends wishing her well.
Waikiki hotels and high rise residents are beginning to prepare for contingencies, including power outages which will result in elevator and water pressure issues. Maui and Hawaii schools are being closed on Thursday and Friday. 'Hurricane hunters' have arrived on the islands, flying into Iselle and dropping GPS and other tracking devices.
Thursday - Touchdown: Morning - Iselle is now 300 miles away from the Big Island but attention is turning to Julio closely behind, because Julio's intensity has increased to a category 2 hurricane and its path seems to be more on track to pass over the islands.
Big Island residents were surprised with a 4.5 magnitude morning earthquake; some residents reported feeling the jolt but others did not. No tsunami was generated.
Preparations are accelerating for Oahu, as more school closures are announced. Bus service will end at 10 p.m. as those buses become shuttles to emergency shelters tonight and tomorrow. The Coast Guard is coordinating port closures, which will disrupt barge schedules and affect the unloading of supplies. Saturday elections are still proceeding but polls may be closed if developments warrant it. State offices are closed on Friday for all non-essential personnel.
Today's focus is on securing patio/lanai furniture, doing gasoline tank fill ups, gathering pet supplies, picking up prescriptions, and other final preparations. A price freeze has gone into effect through August 15th to prevent gouging, so stores may face prosecution for violations. It's still a bright sunny Thursday morning here on Oahu, but the caution level is starting to rise a little.
Thursday afternoon: Ala Moana Shopping Center, a major retail mecca on Oahu, will be closed on Friday. Trash pickup has been suspended so that containers can be secured. Medical and surgical procedures are being rescheduled. Below is a one minute time lapse video consolidating 22 hours of Iselle sky activity that is occurred over Thursday through Friday.
Thursday evening and night: Hurricane Julio has been upgraded to category 3 at 5 p.m. on Thursday. The wind and flood aspects of Iselle are not as bad as anticipated. However, a reporter on the Big Island did relate watching two trees snap and fall. Some areas have received 7 inches of rain.
There's been an alert about the uncontrolled release of hydrogen sulfide steam by the Puna Geothermal Venture plant in Pohoiki. Hazmat teams are evaluating the effect in that region but residents have not reported any symptoms..
Here's more video from Hilo on Iselle effects:
Friday - Action: Early morning - Tropical storm Iselle made its Big Island landfall later than projected, at 2:30 a.m. Friday, bringing blustery winds and rain. As a result, over 20,000 residents are without electrical power at this time. The next islands along the Hawaiian chain, Maui and then Oahu, are beginning to also see high winds, but more intense effects are not anticipated until closer to mid-morning, as Iselle runs alongside the southern coasts.
At 5 a.m., Julio is 870 miles from the Big Island with winds exceeding 100 mph, but forecasters now feel that its track is further north, so Julio is slightly veering away from the islands. Rainfall is still expected late Saturday/Sunday, but the further away north that Julio travels, the lesser the inclement impact. US postal service for Maui, Molokai and Lanai has been suspended Friday morning, but may be re-evaluated later.
With many store closures and service suspensions in effect Friday morning, Oahu residents, especially in the highly populated Honolulu area, are staying off the roads and spending time at home with their family and pets in preparation for Iselle passing by later today. There are a few hundred people at the various shelters around the island, some are there because of building evacuations. The main concern for everyone in our ewa ('western') area is power outages, since we are on relatively higher ground with less risk of flooding.
Maui is reporting downed power lines and fallen trees. Since the water treatment plant had power disruption, residents there are asked to conserve water. There are actually some negative aspects to the storm breaking up, because Iselle is now slowing down, so the windy/rainy conditions will exist longer.
Several Zippys restaurant locations on Oahu are closed for Friday (they're our local diner chain, some outlets are normally open 24/7). Some Honolulu highway lanes are closed due to a large fallen tree near the Pali lookout area; crews are currently cutting the tree into small enough parts in order to haul off the debris. The windward side of Oahu is getting heavy rainfall mid-morning.
A priority has been our island visitors, so there were special express buses running early this morning to shuttle hundreds of hotel workers to Waikiki in order to continue serving their guests. The hope is that bus service will be restored by the time the employees' work shifts end this afternoon.
The governor has concluded a 10 a.m. briefing which outlined FEMA's evaluation of damages. Federal government agencies, engineers and the National Guard are ready to assist with tasks such as power restoration, if needed. Coordination with Red Cross agencies are ongoing. The Coast Guard reports that all ports with the exception of Kauai are presently closed, with re-opening not expected until they are sure that boats will have safe passage from debris.
Friday late morning-early afternoon - Gusty winds are picking up on Oahu, reports of solar panels blowing off roofs are coming in. Some panels may still be 'live' so careful handling is needed. As the afternoon wears on, it looks like Oahu has done pretty well; most of the rain has been concentrated on the northeastern side of the island. Our western area has had sporadic wind gusts but nothing major has occurred. There's general relief that our Oahu experiences were better than expected. Only a small number of windward Oahu residents are without electrical power (about 1,500). Leeward Oahu power was restored to 4,500 households. Our thoughts go out to our Big Island neighbors who suffered worse damage after 14 inches of rain.
Friday afternoon/evening - Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has given the 'all clear' at 3 p.m., so city bus service is resuming immediately, which is good news for the Waikiki hospitality employees who are ready to go home after their long workday. Shelters are being closed, services such as trash pickup will resume tomorrow. Venues such as the Honolulu Zoo will re-open. The election polling locations will ready for voters as originally scheduled on Saturday.
Over 5,000 city workers were given the day off on Friday, while 3,000 essential personnel such as lifeguards, police and firefighters, water and sewer operators pulled extra duty. A big mahalo ('thank you') to them, as well as the Red Cross volunteers manning shelters, call center coordinators, utility company personnel, National Guard members, state and federal government engineers and the media who kept the lines of communication open.
On the hardest hit Big Island, cleanup is still occurring. Electrical power to 15,000 residents still has not been restored, and in some of the rural areas, the power utility is warning that electricity may be out for an extended period of time. About 450 residents don't have water due to a broken tank in their area. Two polling places will not be able to open tomorrow. On the cheerful side, a Big Island stable introduced their newest addition, baby foal Iselle, born Thursday night during the storm.
Saturday - Wrapup: The storm brought thunder and rain to the Kapolei and ewa regions of Oahu Friday night, as Iselle passed by on the way to Kauai, the final island in the chain.
The Big Island remains the first and hardest hit, leaving 9,200 residents still without electrical power. Ice, water and tarps were being distributed to those affected, but supplies ran out within a half hour. Hawaii Electric Light is warning of delays in restoring power due to inaccessible roads.
Primary elections proceeded on Saturday, with two Big Island polling places being inaccessible. Those 8,000 registered voters will given absentee ballots and up to possibly 21 days to vote, creating an interesting situation for the US Senate race, where as of 11 p.m. Saturday night, Senator Brian Schatz maintained a 1,788 vote lead over Rep. Colleen Hanabusa for the hotly contested seat held by Hawaii's beloved Senator Daniel Inouye who died in office.
The sitting governor, Neil Abecrombie, also made history by losing his Democratic primary race, the first time that an incumbent has been defeated. The Democratic nominee, State Senator David Ige, will now move on to face his Republican and Independent opponents in the November general election.
On Sunday, Hurricane Julio passed alongside the Hawaiian island chain in a northeastern direction, but since it remained approximately 350 miles away from land, we aren't seeing any ill effects other than very high surf. The Coast Guard is currently coordinating the rescue of a 42 foot long sailboat that is caught in the category 1 hurricane 400 miles north of Oahu.
At the start of a new week, mop-up continues on the Big Island. HELCo has set up a service center at the area still without power, so that affected residents can talk with representatives and charge their electronic devices at a portable station. Hawaiian Beaches Water Company is providing up to 5 gallons of water per family free of charge. On Oahu, school and jobs are back in session, so traffic conditions are heavy again. Our overflowing trash bins will be happy to see the refuse trucks this week, after Friday's missed pickup.
Following week: Aftermath - Farmers on the Big Island are beginning to assess the damage to their papaya, macadamia nut and flower crops. Photos and video of downed papaya trees strewn over fields are emerging.
Oahu HECo teams have joined Big Island's HELCo utility crews to work on restoring power, but there are thousands still without power, and about 500 homes without water. A Big Island resident's home was destroyed by fire due to candle use because of the outage.
A folklore aspect to 'Hurricane Iselle versus Madame Pele', the volcano goddess, has emerged in the sense that Iselle directly 'ran into' the 13,000+ feet high Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcano peaks and then broke up and slowly dissipated, thus lowering the storm's intensity and impact.
We hope that you found this glimpse into our island adventure interesting, and that you'll share your comments or experiences with us.