SOUTH POINT, Hawaii (AP) — Residents of Hawaii’s Big Island, hours after getting jolted by an moderate earthquake, holed up for a different force of nature yesterday: Hurricane Flossie, expected to deliver up to 10 inches of rain, waves as high as 25 feet and strong winds in a powerful but glancing blow.
Schools and many businesses closed and shelters opened in anticipation of the hurricane, which was downgraded to a Category 2 with top sustained winds of 105 mph. The eye of the storm passed within 85 miles of the island yesterday, and wind speeds on land were expected to exceed 40 mph.
The magnitude 5.4 earthquake 25 miles south of Hilo on Monday night caused a small landslide, but no injuries or structural damage, said Tom Brown, a spokesman for Hawaii County Civil Defense.
More than two dozen aftershocks followed, the largest measuring at magnitude 3.2, said Jim Kauahikaua, scientist in charge at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency dispatched a 20-member response team to Hawaii, which arrived Monday in hopes of easing the blow of the storm, spokeswoman Kim Walz said.
“Instead of waiting for an actual disaster and then going in and providing support, we want to be ready,” she said. “We’ve begun to move resources into place ahead of time to be prepared.”
The team includes specialists in areas of transportation, aviation, public works and health.
The National Weather Service placed the Big Island under a hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning because of the storm, which was supposed to affect the island through today. A flash-flood watch also was issued for the island.
While Flossie stirred up the Pacific, Tropical Storm Dean formed yesterday in the open Atlantic, but it was nearly 1,500 miles east of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. By late morning, it had top sustained winds of 40 mph, just above the threshold to be a named storm.
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, signed an emergency disaster proclamation, which activates the National Guard. Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim also declared a state of emergency Monday as a precaution.
The Big Island is largely rural, with about 150,000 people, and most live in the west or northeast, not the southern portion expected to be hit hardest by the hurricane. Other islands are expected to get much less wind and rain.
At 8 p.m. EDT yesterday, Flossie was about 160 miles south-southeast of Hilo and 340 miles southeast of Honolulu, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said. The storm was moving west-northwest at about 9 mph.
Hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph extended outward up to 40 miles from the center of the storm, while tropical storm force winds of at least 39 mph extended outward up to 105 miles.
“This is too close for comfort,” said National Guard Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, the state adjutant general.
The last time a hurricane hit Hawaii was 1992, when Iniki ravaged Kauai, killing six persons and causing $2.5 billion in damage.