Molokai Unscathed by Double Header Storm
As two hurricanes headed for Hawaii last week in a historic double threat, Molokai residents joined the state in launching into preparation mode. Schools and businesses closed, Red Cross shelters opened and families scrambled to stock up with food and water. While Molokai escaped relatively unscathed, other parts of the state were not so protected. Hawaii Island, where tropical cyclone Iselle made landfall Thursday night, as well as Maui, received significant damages.
At its strongest, Iselle was a Category Four hurricane clocking 140 miles per hour sustained winds across the Pacific. By the time it hit Hawaii Island late Thursday, it had downgraded to a tropical storm. But Iselle made history as the strongest tropical cyclone to ever make landfall on Hawaii Island, and the state’s first hurricane since Iniki 22 years ago. Iniki, Hawaii’s last damaging hurricane in 1992, hit Kauai, causing six deaths and billions of dollars in damages.
Iselle was followed closely by Hurricane Julio, which forecasters originally thought would also affect the Hawaiian Islands, but ended up shifting north of the chain, causing no impacts.
As Iselle approached, many Molokai residents joined others statewide in filling up gas tanks and water jugs, stocking up on nonperishable foods, securing outdoor items and even boarding up windows and placing sandbags.
Statewide, airlines cancelled flights, while businesses, schools and government offices started closing on Thursday in preparation for Iselle. Schools on Molokai closed Thursday and Friday. The Kalaupapa National Historical Park (KNHP) was closed Thursday, as well as Kalaupapa’s pali trail. According to the KNHP Facebook page, the trail opened back up Monday for employees, but as of Sunday, it remained closed to the public until further notice. Port authorities closed harbors around the state, with Kaunakakai the last to be officially reopened.
Thursday night around midnight, nearly 500 residents in Kamalo lost power after a tree fell across the lines, according to Maui Electric. The company reported electricity was restored to those customers around 3:30 a.m. Kalaupapa also suffered power outages. Crews worked Friday to clear lines to the settlement.
While its damaging effects were negligible on Molokai and Lanai, meteorologists reported peak winds on Molokai at 57 mph and 62 mph on Lanai. At Molokai’s One Ali`i Park and Rice Patch, several Port-a-Potties were blown over by gusts.
The Red Cross opened shelters on Molokai Thursday at Molokai High School and Kilohana School. Michele Liberty, Red Cross Maui County director, said seven people stayed at the Molokai High location, while Kilohana remained unused.
“It could have been so much worse,” said Liberty. “It’s great that people listened [to warnings to prepare].”
Gov. Neil Abercrombie also praised Hawaii residents for being so well-prepared.
“It’s been an experience that’s very gratifying because when we put together a plan and work together, it pays big dividends,” he said Saturday.
Despite preparation, parts of the state suffered significantly. Hawaii Island took the brunt of the storm; damage was particularly severe in the Puna area, where thousands were left without electricity. Gusting wind and downpours snapped off trees, downing power lines and blocking roads, and roofs were ripped from homes. Hawaii Electric and Light Co. President Jay Ignacio said in a statement that more than half of the island’s 35 transmission lines were lost during the storm, and customers still without power as of Sunday were told it might be another week before electricity is able to be restored.
After colliding with Hawaii Island’s volcanic mountains, Iselle weakened and broke apart, with rain cells continuing to travel west through the islands. Maui also took a hit, with Ulupalakua Ranch suffering some of the heaviest damages. Maui Electric crews worked around the clock to restore electricity.
As of Sunday, the cleanup continued on Hawaii Island and Maui, and there was yet no estimate of the cost of damages.
Mike Cantin of the National Weather Service’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu advised residents to keep their nonperishable food supplies on hand, even though Iselle and Julio have passed. Hurricane season last until November, he said, and it always pays to be prepared.