Kaua’i was ready for Daniel, but hurricane worries persist

LIHU’E — To those of you who stocked up on bottled water, Spam, saimin,

charcoal, propane and batteries, and bought plywood to board up your windows,

there is good news other than the right turn Tropical Storm Daniel took away

from the island last week.

You’re ready for the next storm. And there will

be one. Everyone from the National Weather Service down to the hourly worker

knows it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when,” the next threatening weather

system strolls into Hawaiian waters.

June through November are hurricane

months in the Pacific, so there are four more months to remain on guard. And

forecasters are predicting more frequent storms than normal this hurricane

season.

Mayor Maryanne Kusaka expressed relief that Daniel decided not to

visit Kaua’i. She also applauded preparations for the storm.

“Our Civil

Defense Agency, state agencies, private companies and emergency response

organizations were well-prepared for whatever may have occurred,” she

said.

“For those of you who have stocked up on supplies in the past week,

please keep them stashed away,” Kusaka continued. “There are still four months

left in hurricane season, and you never know when they’ll be

needed.”

Emergency preparedness handbooks are available at the county

public information office in the Lihu’e Civic Center. Similar information is in

the telephone book on page 53.

Even before Daniel was a memory for most

people on the island, Mark Marshall, the county’s new civil defense

administrator, was tracking Tropical Storm Fabio, which last week was forming

near the coast of California.

While he appreciated the seriousness with

which the people of Kaua’i prepared for the Daniel, another potential disaster

caught his eye when he flew over the island with the Civil Air Patrol. He said

he shares a desire of many people to live beachfront, but he was appalled at

the number of beachfront homes.

“The education for me was horrifying, to

learn how much of Kaua’i has homes in the inundation zone,” Marshall

said.

While hurricanes do much physical damage, the greater danger to human

life is from tsunamis (tidal waves). While folks on the Big Island (where he

lived for 20 years before coming here) don’t raise eyebrows when someone

mentions the word “hurricane,” the same seems true when he mentions tsunamis on

Kaua’i.

Kaua’i people tend to think of tsunamis as Big Island problems, he

said. But if one was generated on the Big Island and headed toward Kaua’i,

people in affected shoreline areas here would have just 20 minutes to

evacuate.

With hasty evacuation leading to clogged coastal highways, there

would be people drowning in their cars if a big tsunami hit, Marshall

said.

In the Pacific Rim, there were 4,000 deaths from tsunamis in the

1990s. And in the last century, 225 people died in Hawai’i tsunamis, compared

to four lives lost last century in Hawai’i hurricanes.

So, Marshall plans

to educate people who live in or are staying in homes or resorts in the

inundation zones (shown on maps on pages 57 to 65 in the Kaua’i telephone book,

and including all of Hanalei town and most of the resorts in the Po’ipu area)

of the inherent risks, and of the potential need to evacuate at literally a

moment’s notice.

Regarding Tropical Storm Daniel, Marshall said people who

hadn’t been through a hurricane before were preparing for the event as if it

were going to be a big party, visiting the liquor store for

provisions.

Those who had been through Hurricane ‘Iniki weren’t as

blasé, he added.

There were omens and harbingers as the preparations

continued for Daniel’s scheduled arrival, he recalled. He got lots of telephone

calls from people not asking him what to do, but when the storm would

hit.

To their credit, Kaua’i County’s fire, police and public works

departments employees seemed ahead of even Big Island disaster responders in

their preparation, he said.

Public Works, recalling the rash of flat tires

after hurricanes ‘Iwa and ‘Iniki, were asking for metallic sweepers to remove

nails from major thoroughfares.

Amateur radio aficionados, who were the

communications on the island in the immediate wake of ‘Iwa and ‘Iniki, also

impressed Marshall.

“That gave me a good feeling that people were really

prepared for the event,” he said.

Marshall worked on the Big Island as

aquatics program administrator, with 60 lifeguards, 31 beaches and several

public pools under his charge. He also fulfilled Civil Defense roles during

lava flows and other emergencies.

He attended and taught school in North

Carolina and South Carolina, where Atlantic hurricanes are a common phenomenon.

With degrees in marine biology and meteorology, he has a knowledge of weather

—tropical and otherwise.

“So, I know the animal,” he said.

Still,

there was good news and bad news when Harry Kim, who recently retired after 30

years as Big Island civil defense administrator — and during that time

developed a sort of “gut feeling” about storms, lava flows and other natural

disasters —called to tell Marshall he had a feeling that Daniel was going to

be bad for Kaua’i.

The good news was that Kim recommended Marshall use the

quiet time before the storm’s anticipated arrival to get organized.

“This

was an excellent drill for us. It was better than any organized drill,” said

Marshall, who noted more time has been spent rewriting procedures than time

spent preparing for Daniel’s arrival.

“This one was real-time, with real

expectations. Fortunately, we had no impact,” he said.

Some of the names

and telephone numbers on the emergency notification list were changed, so it

was good to update that list, he said.

Marshall heard from guests of hotels

and condominiums who said they hadn’t been given disaster information. Civil

Defense alerts the Kaua’i Visitors Bureau and Hawai’i Hotel Association, and

those organizations are supposed to disseminate information to guests.

Apparently, that didn’t happen, he said.

“I was a little alarmed that some

of the smaller hotels and condos didn’t pass on information,” he said. He said

they should “dust off” the emergency plans they’re required to

maintain.

All in all, though, the people of Kaua’i are ready for this type

of event and take it seriously. That is even while some residents still suffer

from affects of post-traumatic stress disorder left over from ‘Iniki, he

added.

He shares Kaua’i residents’ concerns about storms that head in the

island’s direction.

“Those things scare the hell out of me. This

roller-coaster ride called Daniel” was forecast at various times to go south,

go north and roll right over the island, Marshall said.

The good thing

about hurricanes is that they move slowly, usually 20 miles per hour at the

most. The bad thing is that slow movement sometimes tends to increase

complacency in people.

Marshall worries that the complacency will worsen on

the Big Island, as residents figure Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa will push

hurricanes away from the Big Island.

But a six-mile-high storm isn’t

affected much by two-mile high mountains. And the fact that the storm was

forecast to hit the Big Island and then didn’t will only add to Big Islanders’

complacency, he said.

When Daniel was forecast to dump heavy showers on

Kaua’i, potentially triggering flooding, Marshall recommended that plantations

lower reservoir volumes and divert ditches into streams. The recommendation was

acted upon by plantations and other large landowners, resulting in water being

dumped into streams and eventually to the ocean while the island is suffering

near-drought conditions.

When Daniel didn’t bring rain or have any impact

on the island at all except for some high surf, the water was lost by the

plantations and large landowners, he explained.

Marshall said he is

impressed with the way federal, state, county and private officials get along

for the good of the island.

“It makes for a more intimate group,

well-oiled, refined. They know what to do, and they care for each other, help

each other out,” said Marshall.

The same is not the case on the Big Island,

with some private citizens seeing government as an “us-versus-them” scenario.

Even differences between people from the Hilo and Kona sides of the Big Island

made coordination difficult there.

On Kaua’i, he never had to remind the

roughly 40 people at the emergency operations center that they’re there to help

protect lives and property.

“Everybody brought that to the table,”

bringing a sense of “normalcy” to a potentially dangerous situation, he

said.

His job, Marshall said, is to get the best possible information into

the hands of decision-makers, in this case Kusaka.

Other than natural

disasters, Marshall is also concerned about terrorist attacks on the island,

not only through weapons of mass destruction but through biological warfare

agents which could, for example, render the island’s water supply unfit for

drinking.

Ernie Lau, manager and chief engineer with the county Department

of Water, has been trying to build “firewalls” to prevent contamination of one

drinking water source from contaminating the entire island’s supply, Marshall

said.

Lau has also been working to get emergency generators in hardened

buildings near pumping stations, to ensure a ready flow of drinking water in

the event of power outages or other disasters.

The Navy’s Pacific Missile

Range Facility at Barking Sands has been an advocate for training and in

assisting the county. And large landowners like Gay & Robinson, Amfac Sugar

Kaua’i, and others big and small have been cooperative with use of heavy

equipment, access to land, and other matters which aid Civil Defense, he

said.

His planning for the next disaster includes making the seven fire

stations around the island incident command centers, and having disaster relief

centers set up near the stations. He wants to keep the centers separate from

shelters and mass-feeding areas, so they won’t all get too congested.

Law

enforcement would operate out of the incident command centers, to prevent

looting and perform other tasks, Marshall said.

Coordination needs to

happen where relief efforts are concerned as well, since after ‘Iniki, a huge

pile of useless winter clothes developed. With no need for heavy clothing here,

much of it had to be dumped in the Kekaha landfill.

Another post-‘Iniki

mistake was cutting telephone poles and wires to get them off the roads. After

the next hurricane, poles and wires should not be cut, but rather pushed to the

sides of roads.

The poles can be replanted, and having intact wires would

mean quicker restoration of telephone and electrical lines and service, he

reasoned.

Storm-proofing of homes, buildings and utility poles after ‘Iniki

will serve the island well in the next disaster, but the aftermath of another

storm will be much different if the major island of O’ahu is impacted along

with Kaua’i, he said.

Kaua’i enjoyed rapid response after ‘Iniki because no

other island was impacted as severely as this one. If O’ahu and Kaua’i are

impacted by the next hurricane, relief and recovery efforts will be

concentrated on the more heavily populated area before coming here, he

advised.

TGI staff writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at 245-3681

(ext. 224) or pcurtis@pulitzer.net

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