As Hurricanes Iselle and Julio headed toward Hawaii, Stan Lawrence boarded up his surf shop in downtown Hilo.
“It’s safer to be closed,” Lawrence said Thursday morning, although the sun was shining. Later, the rain began.
The last time a hurricane hit the state was in 1992, when Iniki veered past the Big Island and pummeled Kauai, killing six people and destroying 1,400 homes.
“Hurricanes are unpredictable,” said Lawrence, who grew up in Santa Monica and moved to Hawaii in the 1970s. “They’re like traveling bombs.”
Iselle, a Category 1 hurricane, was reported to be 90 miles east-southeast of Hilo and moving toward the Big Island at 17 mph. Coastal areas were bracing for heavy rain, wind and flash flooding. Tropical storm conditions were expected to spread to Maui on Thursday night and to Oahu and Kauai on Friday.
Julio, the trailing storm, was expected to hit over the weekend or early next week, according to the National Weather Service. A Category 3 hurricane with maximum winds of 115 mph, Julio was 1,060 miles east of Hilo and moving at 16 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
Officials warned the public to get ready.
“We’re prepared for an immediate response and we have a recovery plan,” Gov. Neil Abercrombie said at a Thursday news conference. “I want to assure everyone on the Big Island, Maui and elsewhere that whatever needs to be done, we’re prepared to do it. Response will be immediate.”
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, there are about 94,000 visitors on average on any given day on Oahu, 55,000 in Maui, 41,000 on the Big Island and 25,000 in Kauai.
All beach parks in the state were closed, along with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, officials said.
Mary Roblee owns the Ala Kai Bed and Breakfast, about 400 feet from the ocean in Hilo. She expects Iselle and Julio to be “by far the worst” storms she has experienced in her 10 years on the Big Island.
“We’re very worried,” she said. “We are prepared to evacuate if we have to.”
The National Weather Service was predicting winds of more than 40 mph, with gusts reaching 55 mph, to begin spreading early Friday. Swells were expected to reach 10 to 15 feet by Thursday night. Heavy rainfall between 4 and 7 inches was expected.
Hawaii’s Department of Education announced that all public schools were closed and would remain closed Friday. Some schools would serve as emergency shelters, officials said.
Hawaiian Airlines waived reservation change fees and fare differences for passengers who wanted to alter their travel plans because of the hurricanes, according to the airline’s website. American Airlines, Island Air, Mokulele, United Airlines and U.S. Airways all announced flight cancellations, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Caroline Sluyter, spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Transportation, said that although the Hilo airport remained open as of midday, its personnel were preparing as though “you were preparing your home.” That meant tying down loose objects outside, such as small general aviation planes, and testing generators, she said.
“Hilo gets a lot of rain anyway,” Sluyter said. “So heavy rains at Kona may be more detrimental.”
Kona is on the island’s western shore, the opposite side from Hilo.
Mary Dahlager owns and operates the Hale Ho’ola Bed and Breakfast in Kona, where she has lived for 12 years.
“We’re all paying attention to the weather, but we’re not overreacting,” Dahlager said.
Nevertheless, stores in Kona were mobbed with people buying water and toilet paper, she said.
“Even my yoga studio is closed, but I think it’s just a precaution,” Dahlager said. “There are always severe storm warnings and we just say, ‘Ho hum.’”
As if two impending hurricanes weren’t alarming enough, a magnitude 4.5 earthquake shook Waimea on the Big Island’s eastern shore early Thursday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said some areas may have experienced shaking, but there were no reports of damage.