KONA, Hawaii — Paradise looks different when a fierce hurricane is raging along its shores.
Glittering beaches have emptied, the usual bustle of windsurfers, sun worshipers and buskers replaced by sandbags and boarded windows. A vacationing mother looking for rest and relaxation instead tried to comfort her children, telling them that “fancy winds” might disrupt their long-awaited trip but that they would be all right.
And inside grocery stores across the Hawaiian islands, people were hoarding water, toilet paper and Spam. Lots of Spam.
Hawaii’s disaster-weary residents already have endured historic torrential rains, fiery volcanic eruptions and earthquakes this year, but Category 3 Hurricane Lane, churning off the coast of the Big Island on Thursday, presented a threat unlike any the islands have seen in decades. No hurricane has come this close to the state since Hurricane Iniki in 1992, prompting officials and residents to brace themselves for devastating flash floods, mudslides and massive waves that could surge up to 25 feet.
“We’ve had a lot of near-misses, so some people aren’t worried, but this one is putting me on the edge,” said Patrick Manila, one of many shoppers stocking up at a Walmart in Kona on Wednesday night. “Things could totally go off course, but if it does come straight here, knock on wood, I’ll be somewhat prepared.”
Manila, 25, has lived in Hawaii his entire life and endured storm warnings in the past, but Lane feels different, he said. Manila already had purchased water and two cases of Spam the day before, but he worried the stock would not be enough for him and his family. After winching the family’s roof to the family trucks, he went back to the market to pick up water-filtering devices, in case they needed to drink collected rainwater. Manila also bought another four cans of Spam and a 20-pound bag of rice.
Residents like Manila have cleaned out grocery store shelves of ramen, water and canned food and lined up at gas stations, heeding government warnings to fill up fuel tanks and prepare to shelter in place as needed with a 14-day supply of food and water.
“Hawaii is in danger of being significantly impacted by Hurricane Lane, whether or not the hurricane directly hits the state,” according to an emergency proclamation Gov. David Ige (D) signed Wednesday pledging state aid in the wake of the expected damage.
By Thursday morning here, the storm was about 200 miles south-southwest of Kona on the Big Island, carrying winds of 130 mph, according to The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. Residents on the Big Island saw a major highway shut down by landslides, and a deluge of more than 12 inches of rain left cars stuck in flash floods. That was all before the brunt of the storm was expected to hit the southernmost Hawaiian island Thursday night; authorities were warning that conditions were likely to degrade significantly, even if the hurricane shifted farther to the west.
“Hurricanes are inherently unpredictable, so a movement in either direction could affect the force of the winds,” said Richard Rapoza, a spokesman for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. “But you prepare for the worst-case scenario.”
Rapoza said Lane’s path is comparable with that of Hurricane Iniki, which devastated Kauai in 1992. Iniki caused more than $3 billion in damage and left six dead.
President Trump this week signed a disaster declaration for the state, pledging to provide federal resources for recovery and catastrophe relief.
At a news conference with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Thursday , government officials, the Red Cross and military leaders assured the public that they were prepared for swift-water rescues, to shelter residents and for potential repairs to the electrical grid. Schools, universities and most government offices shuttered across the state, while hospitals canceled nonemergency medical procedures and prepared backup generators.
“It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark, so what that means is readiness is important,” said Brad Kieserman, vice president for disaster operations for the American Red Cross. Kieserman said that between the floods and Kilauea’s volcanic eruptions this year, the Red Cross and government agencies have “a lot of experience” preparing for disaster.
“Whether it makes landfall or not, it is a dangerous event and we’re ready for it,” Kieserman said, adding that nearly 300 people had been housed in shelters as of Thursday morning.
Honolulu shelters opened to residents at 10 a.m. Thursday. Evacuees arrived via school buses and city buses with destination displays that read “EVACUATION.” Most evacuees at a city shelter in the President William McKinley High School gym were homeless.
“We’re going to be in business for longer,” said Ray Moody, a longtime Hawaii Red Cross volunteer. “We’re going to have probably more people than we expect usually.”
Talmadge Magno, Hawaii County’s civil defense administrator, said that the string of natural disasters this year has been a strain but that the continual preparations have helped with the state’s response to Hurricane Lane.
“It’s pretty tough to juggle all that,” Magno said. “But you build capacity and resiliency in your response, and every incident helps you out for the next one.”
Malia Ullin, 49, owns a women’s clothing boutique — called Hurricane — in the town of Makawao on the island of Maui. On Wednesday evening she was screwing pieces of plywood over the store’s street-front windows.
“Better safe than sorry,” Ullin said as rain and wind began to pelt the idyllic island. “This boutique is my livelihood. It’s the most important thing to me, and I want to protect it.”
Ullin said that she has lived on Maui for 20 years but that this storm is the first one that has her truly worried.
“It’s just this feeling I get, that there’s the potential for it to be really big,” she said. “It’s unpredictable, and we just don’t know.”
Some Hawaii residents were more casual about the coming storm. In hotels, car-rental stands and grocery stores, longtime residents brushed off the warnings, saying, “The storm always goes by us,” “It’s just another day” and “It’s the season.”
“That is a concern for us, that we’ve had a number of false alarms,” said Rapoza, of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, noting that he was concerned people would think Hurricane Lane is yet another that will miss. “But people need to take this really seriously.”
Kerr reported from Maui, and Teague reported from Oahu. Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang in Washington contributed to this report.