Hurricane Douglas swirls ‘uncomfortably close’ to Hawaii

HONOLULU (AP) — Heavy rain and wind gusts battered Maui on Sunday as Hurricane Douglas swirled off the coast of Hawaii and officials urged residents to take shelter.

Forecasters said the Category 1 hurricane would pass close to Oahu and potentially even make a direct hit on the island, which is home to state’s biggest city of Honolulu.

“We remain uncomfortably close to a dangerous hurricane here in the state of Hawaii,” Robert Ballard, the science and operations officer at the Central Pacific Hurricane Center, said during a teleconference.

The center of Hurricane Douglas, which Ballard called a “pretty nasty hurricane,” appears to have passed within 45 miles (72 kilometers) to the north of Hana, Maui.

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At mid-afternoon, the storm was 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Honolulu.

Maui was projected to have the brunt of the storm before Douglas moved on to Honolulu in the afternoon. Kauai would see the worst of the storm in the evening, possibly after dark.

Ballard said the storm was tracking west-northwest over the island chain and any variation of the path closer could bring much worse weather. A direct hit on Oahu still remains a possibility, he said.

“It’s probably not the most likely solution right now, but when you’re forecasting a hurricane to go 40 miles or so north of Oahu, any little jog to the left would bring much worse conditions to the main Hawaiian Islands. So that’s a big concern,” he said.

Forecasters are warning powerful winds, rain and storm surge could inflict damage. Douglas had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph) in the afternoon.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell urged residents to take the threat seriously, saying Oahu has repeatedly gotten lucky in recent years as hurricanes bearing down on the island have ultimately fizzled out or veered away. But not this time, he said.

“We’re going to be seeing strong winds and storm surge on parts of the island where roads are very close to the water, where homes are very close to the water. It could be a life threatening event,” he said. “We don’t want to see anyone get hurt or worse.”

Duke Stevens, who lives in Hana on Maui’s eastern tip, said by early afternoon there was no longer any wind and the light rain that fell persistently through the night had subsided.

“I’ve seen a lot worse,” said Stevens, who has lived on Maui since 1987.

Authorities on Oahu and Maui sounded emergency sirens as rain fell and blustery winds swayed trees. Officials urged residents to shelter in place or, as last resort, to take refuge at shelters.

About 300 people evacuated to the Hawaii Convention Center on the edge of Waikiki. On Maui, 22 people were at five shelters around the island.

Evacuees were told to bring masks and hand sanitizer along with the usual emergency supplies of food and water. People will have to wear face coverings to be admitted, and will have to wear them unless they are eating, drinking or sleeping.

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.

Hawaii has some of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in the nation, but COVID-19 numbers have been rising in recent weeks. For three consecutive days through Saturday, Hawaii reported record highs of newly confirmed cases.

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 canceled all Sunday flights between Hawaii and the U.S. mainland and also between the islands.

Rainfall was expected to be between 5-15 inches (13-38 centimeters).

Oahu, Kauai and Maui were all under a hurricane warning, though a hurricane watch was canceled for the Big Island.

Gov. David 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.”

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AP journalists Caleb Jones in Honolulu, Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, Brian P.D. Hannon in Phoenix, and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.

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