Washington, DC — A Category 4 hurricane would have “devastating” effects on the population and infrastructure of the Hawaiian islands, according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) planning document released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The document predicts that the “combined effects of wind, rain, and storm inundation” will lead to widespread destruction of residential housing, commercial structures and critical infrastructure.
The planning document focuses on the likelihood and effects of a Category 4 hurricane (Category 5 is the highest category for a tropical cyclone or hurricane) carrying wind speeds of up to 155 mph. It notes that “there is an 80% chance during any given hurricane season that a hurricane strength system will pass within 360 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.” The Pacific hurricane season typically runs from June to November. The report looks at 12 scenarios “based on historical tracks” and concludes that:
• Hawaii’s unique topography “channels and amplifies winds across ridges and through island valleys,” magnifying effects so that “even a relatively weak hurricane making landfall in the Hawaiian Islands will result in substantial damage and economic loss”;
• “Wind speed-up factors may produce wind gusts over 200 mph. Most residential housing is of single-wall construction that will not withstand winds over 130 mph”; and
• “Total building loss from flooding [alone] for the modeled areas is an estimated $2.9 billion” from huge storm surges that, in some places, “will last for several hours.”
The strongest hurricane to strike Hawaii since modern weather reporting was Hurricane Iniki, a Category 4 storm which hit Kauai in September 1992 costing 6 lives and almost $2 billion in damage.
“Government operations in low-lying areas, such as Pearl Harbor, will be knocked out of commission in any sizeable storm,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization has pushed against the relocation of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to a new mega-complex on Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor. “Both the state and federal government should factor in the effects of a hurricane or tsunami in deciding where it puts critical assets.”
PEER obtained the modeling report, entitled “Hawaii Catastrophic Hurricane OPLAN [Operations Plan]: Version 2.0” and dated July 16, 2009, in a lawsuit brought under the Freedom of Information Act against FEMA, which had maintained for months that no such document existed.
“Planning documents like these should not be treated like state secrets,” Ruch added. “It is far better to acknowledge risks and intelligently plan for them rather than burying our collective heads in the sand.”