Magnitude-4.5 Quake Strikes Hawaii as Residents Brace for Two Hurricanes Bearing Down on the Big Island
Hawaii’s Big Island got whacked with another natural disaster on Thursday as a 4.5 magnitude earthquake struck before the first of two hurricanes swirling toward the islands was scheduled to hit.
Though the earthquake didn’t cause major damage, it struck as residents were waking up to make last-minute trips to grocery stores and boarding up their homes ahead of the first hurricane set to hit the Hawaiian islands in more than two decades.
We have a hurricane. Now we have this on top of it. What else?Kelsey Walker said the quake felt like a “little jolt” but didn’t knock things off shelves at the Waimea grocery store where he works. He was trying to keep a sense of humour about it.
“We have a hurricane. Now we have this on top of it. What else?” said Walker, second assistant manager at Foodland Waimea.
Iselle was supposed to weaken as it slowly trudged west across the Pacific. It didn’t – and now Hawaii is poised to take its first direct hurricane hit in 22 years. Tracking close behind it was Hurricane Julio, which strengthened early Thursday into a Category 2 storm.
“Iselle is on the collision course with Hawaii and is slated to cross over the Big Island,” David Streit, a meteorologist at Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland, said by e-mail Thursday. “The storm will produce locally heavy rains and flash flooding” before clearing out in two days.
As the two hurricanes churned toward the islands, the quake hit at 6:30 a.m. local time, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. The temblor struck on the island’s north tip, about 11 kilometres from Waimea. There were no immediate reports of damage.
“To have two AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy
Cantin said that means stronger winds of 95 to 115 km/h, though rainfall estimates of 12 cm to 20 cm in a short time frame remained unchanged.
“Not a major hurricane, but definitely enough to blow things around,” he said.
Iselle loomed about 650 km east of Hilo early Thursday, with sustained winds of 135 km/h and traveling about 29 km/h.
Cantin said the Big Island’s size and terrain would help break up the hurricane, weakening it into a tropical storm as it passes Maui and Oahu late Thursday and early Friday.
Hurricane Julio, meanwhile, swirled closely behind with maximum winds whipping at about 170 km/h. The National Hurricane Centre said it expected the storm to strengthen even more Thursday before gradually weakening by Thursday night. That weakening is expected to continue into the weekend.
Hawaii has been directly hit by hurricanes only three times since 1950, though the region has had 147 tropical cyclones over that time. The last time Hawaii was hit with a tropical storm or hurricane was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes in Kauai, said meteorologist Eric Lau.
The two hurricanes have disrupted tourism, prompted flash flood warnings and led to school closures. Gov. Neil Abercrombie, meanwhile, signed an emergency proclamation allowing officials to tap into a disaster fund set aside by the state Legislature.
Hawaiian Airlines waived reservation change fees and fare differences for passengers who needed to alter travel plans Thursday and Friday because of the storms. Hawaiian Airlines spokeswoman Ann Botticelli said hundreds of inquires poured in from customers seeking to change their flights.
Some travellers remained hopeful.
Boston resident Jonathan Yorke and his wife booked a Hawaii vacation with their two daughters last year. He has been watching the news to see how the storms could affect the two-week trip to Maui and the Big Island.
“We’re all optimists, so we’ll make the best of it,” Yorke said.
We’re all optimists, so we’ll make the best of itWashington state couple Tracy Black and Chris Kreifels made plans to get married in an outdoor ceremony on the Big Island Saturday. They spent Wednesday getting a marriage license, adjusting plans and communicating with worried guests on the mainland.
“We see the rain as a blessing,” Black said. “It will work out as it’s supposed to.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what financial impact the storms would have on the state’s tourism industry, a key economic driver.
Hawaii residents also have had to adjust. Stores have seen long lines this week as people brace themselves.
Some are voting early in primary elections that close Saturday. The elections include several marquee races, including congressional and gubernatorial races. Abercrombie – who is running for re-election in a tight Democratic primary – said the election is expected to move forward as planned as of Wednesday afternoon.
Also, education officials said public schools on the Big Island, Maui, Molokai and Lanai will be closed Thursday.
The storms are rare but not unexpected in years with a developing El Nino, a change in ocean temperature that affects weather around the world.
Ahead of this year’s hurricane season, weather officials warned that the wide swath of the Pacific Ocean that includes Hawaii could see four to seven tropical cyclones this year.
This is what Associated Press reporters on the scene are learning as the first hurricane in 22 years bears down on Hawaii:
9:05 a.m. HST
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has tweeted that the city is opening emergency shelters Thursday night and city bus service on Friday is canceled.
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The American Red Cross is pleading for the return of its only emergency truck on the Big Island. Hawaii chapter CEO Coralie Matayoshi says the white Ford F-150 truck bearing Red Cross markings was stolen in Hilo Wednesday night. The organization will have to borrow or rent a truck as Hurricane Iselle approaches the island.
8:05 a.m. HST
At the White House, President Barack Obama was briefed by his homeland security adviser on preparations for the storms that are threatening his birthplace. Spokesman Josh Earnest said administration officials will remain in close contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies that are that are preparing to help with response and recovery efforts as the storms near.
7:45 a.m. HST
Hawaii has been directly hit by hurricanes only three times since 1950, though the region has had 147 tropical cyclones over that time. Meteorologist Eric Lau said the last time Hawaii was hit with a tropical storm or hurricane was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes in Kauai, said meteorologist Eric Lau.
7:20 a.m. HST
Hurricane Iselle was supposed to weaken as it slowly trudged west across the Pacific. It didn’t – and now Hawaii is poised to take its first direct hurricane hit in 22 years. Iselle is on course to hit the Big Island tonight, and is being tailed by Hurricane Julio, which strengthened early today into a Category 2 storm.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Geological Survey reports a magnitude 4.5 earthquake has rattled Hawaii’s Big Island. There were no immediate reports of damage.