Pandemic presents another challenge in Hurricane Douglas preparations

Tracking Douglas

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Residents are asked to finish their emergency preparations and to stay home for the next two days.

Oahu will have 13 emergency shelters, city officials announced on Saturday, July 25.

The biggest by far is the Hawaii Convention Center, which is expected to hold 1,600 people, even with social distancing guidelines. The shelters will open at 9 a.m. on Sunday, July 26.

“Initially we thought about opening up earlier but because of COVID-19, we didn’t want to invite people who had to leave and have them close together even though they’ll be six feet apart and wearing face coverings for an extended period of time,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

But there are some reassuring news from officials.

They say that the Health Department contacted those who have COVID-19 to make sure they can stay in place, and not have to evacuate.

“They said yes, they were not planning to evacuate,” said Mayor Caldwell. “That gives us a sigh of relief for those who are gonna be operating the shelters.”

Emergency crews from all different agencies say they’ve taken the necessary precautions. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has officials at all four counties and additional equipment on standby.

“We have staged generators and water in both Maui County and Hawaii County–that’s just for emergency power needs,” said Veronica Verde, who is with FEMA. “Our urban search and swift water personnel with swift water rescue capabilities are currently in Hawaii County and we have another team en route to Honolulu.”

The state has added staffing at problem areas from flooding and other storm damage.

“Our Oahu crew is also assessing Kamehameha Highway in the Hauula and Kaaawa area to determine actions that can be taken in advance of high surf,” said Department of Transportation Director Jade Butay.

Hawaiian Electric says it has added 200 workers to the normal staffing and has put them in position in remote areas so they can get there faster.

“Our main posture at this point is just to try and anticipate to have our crews be safe and able to get out there as quickly after the storm passes so that we can start with our damage assessment,” said Hawaiian Electric CEO Scott Seu.

Officials acknowledge that the pandemic presents an extra set of challenges.

One of them is the shortage of volunteers for the shelters. Mayor Caldwell says city employees have been trained by red cross volunteers to help with the shortage, and they will be provided with the necessary protective equipment.

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