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Hundreds take shelter in Kona ahead of now-Tropical Storm Iselle

Updated: 
August 7, 2014 - 11:15pm

Hawaii Island residents and tourists crammed into classrooms and sprawled out in cafeterias as they hunkered down for the first hurricane to hit the islands in 22 years.

Some passed time on their electronic gadgets, while others watched their kids play on blankets laid out on the floor. But mostly, they waited to see what Iselle might bring.

“It’s kind of hectic, but you got to do what you got to do,” said Mervyn, a Waiakea Uka resident, who declined to provide his last name.

Eleven shelters were opened across the island, providing a safe place from the wind and rain, but not much else. Residents were asked to bring their own supplies, including food.

In Hilo, Waiakea High School was the most crowded, with between 160 and 175 people checked in as of 4 p.m. Thursday, Red Cross volunteers said. In Kona, there were about 70 people at Konawaena High School and well more than 200 at Kealakehe High School as of Thursday night.

As of 10 p.m., a total of 1,248 people had taken refuge from Iselle at one of the island’s 11 shelters, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense.

Space and seating were a premium, with many desks and tables occupied by the time the wind started to pick up. Some space in bathrooms also was occupied by those looking for an outlet for their laptops.

Volunteers said they were opening up more classrooms.

Hilo High School had 78 people checked in Thursday afternoon, said Red Cross shelter manager Keoni De La Cruz. He was expecting more as Waiakea High School filled up.

William Halversen, who is homeless, said he was happy to be out of the rain but wasn’t expecting much from the storm.

“God’s not gonna hit us with anything too bad,” he said.

For many, this was the first time they used a shelter.

Historically, the Big Island has been mostly spared from the worst hurricanes can bring. The National Weather Service said the island had not taken a direct hit since satellite tracking of storms began in the 1950s.

“I’d rather be in my house if it doesn’t get hit,” said Elaine Sakoda.

Sakoda, 88, said she had not experienced a hurricane before, and was worried about the new coat of paint on her home being peeled away.

The Hammons family said they have seen much worse while living in Florida and weren’t too concerned. Still, as tourists, they said a shelter was their only option since some hotels were turning people away.

“We didn’t know we had a hurricane coming,” said Andrea Hammons, who noted they planned the trip to the Big Island two months ago.

Her son, Nicholas, recommended they stay in their rental car.

“I’ve sat really long in a gym,” he said. “It’s no fun.”

Long-time friends Judith Turbyne of Scotland and Ron Strochlic of California had no trouble finding the bright side of the storm.

“The vacation up to now was wonderful; afterward, it will be lovely, and this will be a wee story to tell in the middle,” Turbyne said.

West Hawaii Today reporter Bret Yager contributed to this report.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.