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Maui braces for impact as Hurricane Douglas nears Hawaii

Hawaii prepared for the onslaught of Hurricane Douglas on Sunday, with predictions of high winds, rain and storm surge.

“It’s definitely going to be a triple threat,” said U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Vanessa Almanza.

Rainfall from the storm can be anywhere from 13 to 38 centimetres. It’s “probably not a good day to go to the beach,” Almanza said.

Douglas weakened Saturday to a Category 1 hurricane as it approached Hawaii, but officials warned people should not be lulled into complacency. The NWS said Douglas should remain a hurricane as it moves through the islands Sunday.

“Douglas is continuing a gradual, slow, weakening trend, which in itself is good news. But the bad news is that this hurricane is going to come very close to the islands even as it’s weakening,” said Robert Ballard, the science and operations officer at the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. “And we do expect significant impacts as it makes its point of closest approach or possible landfall as it comes through.”

Carlos Mozo fills sandbags in preparation for flooding from the hurricane in Hau’ula, on the windward side of Oahu. (Ronen Zilberman/AFP/Getty Images)

Oahu, home to the state’s largest city, Honolulu, was placed under a hurricane warning with the storm beginning to impact the island as early as late morning. Kauai and Maui were also placed under warning status Sunday, while a hurricane watch was cancelled for the Big Island.

Officials on Maui planned to sound hurricane warning sirens Sunday morning alerting residents to shelter in place or take refuge at one of seven shelters set up around the island. The hurricane was packing maximum sustained winds of 150 km/h Sunday.

The NWS said parts of Maui were to feel the first impacts of Hurricane Douglas on Sunday morning, followed by Oahu about midday and the islands of Kauai and Niihau in the evening.

‘Significant impact’ on each island expected

Maui officials said in a release that they will assess damage from the storm Monday.

“We know that it is weakening as it approaches, but it still will have significant impact on each island,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige said at a Saturday news conference.

State health department officials contacted each of the 625 people who were currently in isolation or quarantine as of Friday because they are either COVID-19 positive or have been in contact with someone who is. Every one of those indicated they would shelter in place and not seek refuge at a hurricane shelter.

“That gives a sigh of relief,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

Hawaii has some of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in the nation, but numbers have been rising in recent weeks. Every day since Thursday, Hawaii has reported record highs of newly confirmed cases, including 73 on Saturday.

Caldwell said at the same news conference that 13 shelters were to open at 9 a.m. local time Sunday around Oahu, well ahead of the hurricane impacting the island, anywhere from midday into the evening. People will have to wear face coverings to be admitted, and will have to wear them unless they are eating, drinking or sleeping.

The storm was about 300 kilometres east of Honolulu Sunday, moving west-northwest at 26 km/h.

A satellite image shows Hurricane Douglas in the Pacific Ocean on course for Hawaii. (NOAA/Handout/Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for Hawaii because of the hurricane, directing federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts.

Hawaiian Airlines cancelled all Sunday flights between Hawaii and the U.S. mainland and also between the other islands.

Ige said residents should already have their 14-day emergency supply kit in place, but because of COVID-19, he encouraged people to add masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.

Honolulu resident Scott Silva had supplies in hand.

“Just make sure I had enough food, you know, enough extra water, which I usually do anyway, so that’s about it,” he said. “Not expecting too much trouble from this one.”

Hurricane Hanna downgraded

Separately in Texas, Hurricane Hanna’s winds lashed the state’s southern coast early Sunday, knocking out power to thousands before it was downgraded to a tropical storm that still threatened flash flooding in the area already badly hit by coronavirus infections.

Hanna came ashore on Padre Island on Saturday afternoon as a Category 1 hurricane, and later made a second landfall in Kenedy County.

More than 283,104 homes and businesses were without electricity by mid-morning Sunday, according to poweroutage.us. But some locals took advantage of the wild weather, with Alejandero Carcano, 16, and Jesse Garewal, 18, both residents of Galveston, surfing the high swells whipped up by Hanna.

Weakening as it headed west over land, Hanna was a tropical storm by Sunday morning, with its centre about 65 kilometres from McAllen, Tex., and about 105 kilometres from Monterrey, Mexico, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

At 4:00 a.m. CT, the storm’s top sustained winds were around 95 km/h, the centre said.

A girl covers her face from strong winds as her family members watch high swells from former-hurricane Hanna from a jetty in Galveston, Texas on Saturday. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

It was forecast to lose more steam as it moved across Texas and northeastern Mexico, and on Sunday weather watch officials cancelled the storm surge warning they had issued for the Texas coast.

“Showers with heavy rain were developing from Victoria extending SE into the Gulf of Mexico, moving NW. Expect this trend to continue through mid morning,” the NWS Corpus Christi office said on Twitter.

Hanna still posed a threat, the hurricane centre said, noting it could dump upward of 45 centimetres of rain in the area through Monday.

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