Emergency shelters will open today while government offices across the Big Island will close as residents brace for a direct hit from Hurricane Iselle.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said the 11 shelters will open at 9 a.m. Residents using the shelters should bring water, food and medication with them, he said.
Hawaii County, state offices and courthouses will close at noon and remain closed through Friday. Only essential employees will remain at work.
State and county parks are closed until further notice.
The state Department of Education closed all Big Island schools today and Friday, and University of Hawaii and Hawaii Community College campuses will also close through Friday.
Oliveira said the county contacted residents in low-lying areas to request they evacuate. Mandatory evacuations were not planned.
Oliveira said residents across the island should be prepared, and noted the strongest winds may occur toward the northeast side of the storm.
Expecting the storm to have passed by the islands by Saturday, election officials were planning to go ahead with the primary.
“Every county, including the state, (is) at this time planning to hold a primary on Saturday,” said Rex Quidilla, state Office of Elections spokesman.
Pat Nakamoto, county elections administrator, said generators are on standby for polling places if power is not restored in time.
She said there are enough generators for each of the 41 polling places and the counting center.
“My understanding is, if all 41 need generators, we will be able to get them there,” Nakamoto said.
Walk-in voting sites will open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. today — the last day for walk-in voting.
Nakamoto said her office was receiving more phone calls than normal regarding early voting.
As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, the county had received 14,540 mail ballots and 4,209 ballots from walk-in voting.
Currently all state airports and highways remain open, according to the stae Department of Transportation. During severe weather conditions, travelers are advised to check with air carriers on flight schedules before going to airports.
The Coast Guard instructed all pleasure craft to seek sheltered waters, and announced that all oceangoing commercial vessels and barges over 200 tons are expected to leave Hilo by 4 a.m. and Kawaihae by 7 a.m.
American Airlines canceled flights between Kahului, Maui, and Los Angeles for today.
Hawaiian Airlines expects to make a decision this afternoon whether to cancel flights, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park also closed its backcountry areas.
Hele-On buses were scheduled to operate as normal today and Friday, though the mass transit agency was warning riders that cancellations or delays may occur with short notice.
The Democratic Party’s Grand Rally is also canceled for Friday.
Senior nutrition and recreation programs are canceled today and Friday.
Assistant Police Chief Marshall Kanehailua said Wednesday there have been discussions at the Emergency Operations Center about notifying homeless people about the storm.
“We’ll be posting, of course, notifications about the shelter openings with officers on the beat,” he said. “When they do come across those individuals, we’ll be notifying them of the impending hurricane and what shelters are open.”
The Salvation Army released a written statement Wednesday that it’s “prepared to respond with community assistance as needed on the major Hawaiian Islands.”
“The public is encouraged to help in advance by supporting emergency disaster services efforts via monetary donations via our website,” said Major Mark Gilden, Salvation Army’s Hawaiian and Pacific Island Division’s business secretary. “One-hundred percent of the donated funds will be used to support our emergency disaster services in Hawaii.”
Online donations may be made at salvationarmyhawaii.org.
Storm preparedness information can be found at scd.hawaii.gov.
Staff writer John Burnett contributed to this story.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.