cbc.ca (© Copyright: (C) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, http://www.cbc.ca/aboutcbc/discover/termsofuse.html#Rss)
Updated: Fri, 08 Aug 2014 03:34:36 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Hurricane Iselle: Hawaii braces as heavy rains, winds reach the islands



Shelly Nakasone looks through her shopping cart as she buys supplies as a hurricane and a tropical storm approach the Hawaiian islands, in Mililani, Hawaii, August 5, 2014. A hurricane and a tropical storm are heading west across the Pacific Ocean toward the tourist haven of Hawaii and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said parts of the islands may need to post watches later on Tuesday. Hurricane Iselle was about 1,055 miles (© 1,700 km)

Shelly Nakasone looks through her shopping cart as she buys supplies as a hurricane and a tropical storm approach the Hawaiian islands, in Mililani, Hawaii, August 5, 2014. A hurricane and a tropical storm are heading west across the Pacific Ocean toward the tourist haven of Hawaii and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said parts of the islands may need to post watches later on Tuesday. Hurricane Iselle was about 1,055 miles (1,700 km) east-southeast of Hawaii, moving west at 9 miles per hour (15 km per hour) with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph (200 kph), the National Hurricane Center said. Further east over the Pacific, Tropical Storm Julio was about 1,145 miles (1,845 km) from Baja California in Mexico and also expected to continue moving west-northwest through Thursday, the NHC said. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT DISASTER) - RTR41DKC Hugh Gentry/Reuters

Barely holding on to hurricane strength, Iselle's outer edges brought rain and wind to Hawaii on Thursday as it approached landfall, poised to become the first hurricane or tropical storm to hit the island chain in 22 years and whose path another hurricane closely followed.

Even before its eye touched land, Hurricane Iselle knocked out power on parts of the Big Island, one of the least populated islands known for coffee fields, volcanoes and black sand beaches. Iselle was expected to pass over the Big Island on Thursday night and then send rain and high winds to the rest of the state on Friday. The storm's predicted track had it skirting just south of the other islands.

"Whoop, there goes the power," 29-year-old Andrew Fujimura of Puna said as he spoke with an Associated Press reporter Thursday night. "It's fine. We'll just go to bed early tonight, I guess."

Fujimura was trading videos with a friend in Maui to help the friend see what weather conditions to expect. The videos show loud winds blowing through palm trees, white foamy waves chopping high onto shoreline shrubs and rocks — even a surfer riding rolling waves with an overcast sky on the Big Island's eastern shore.

'I can't say I'm too worried'

Waves were breaking about 5 to 6 metres, Fujimura said.

"I can't say I'm too worried," he said. "Worst-case scenario, the power may go out a day or two. But we're prepared for that kind of stuff out here."

Forecasters were analyzing storm data before making possible changes to its categorization, National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Lau said.

"But we're not really too concerned about the track or the intensity of the system," Lau said. "We're primarily urging residents to still take proper precautions to prepare themselves to keep everyone safe."

Hundreds of people flowed into emergency shelters set up at high schools on the Big Island, one of which lost power. Crews worked to restore electricity to the shelter in Pahoa with at least 140 people.

Power also was lost Thursday evening in two communities on the Big Island: Waimea, a town of about 9,200 people near the island's north shore, and Puna, a district scattered with residents south of Hilo, Hawaii County Civil Defense officials said.

Hurricane Julio following Iselle

Mayor Billy Kenoi told KHON-TV that no major injuries or damage from the first bits of wind and rain have been reported. But heavy rains led authorities on the Big Island to issue a flood advisory.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Julio, strengthened into a Category 3 storm and followed Iselle's path with sustained maximum winds of 185 km/h. It was about 1,600 kilometres behind Iselle and projected to head just north of the islands sometime early Sunday morning.

Hawaii has been directly hit by hurricanes only three times since 1950. The last time Hawaii was hit with a hurricane or tropical storm was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes in Kauai, Lau said.

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said the state is prepared for the back-to-back storms, noting the National Guard is at the ready and state and local governments were closing offices, schools and transit services across Hawaii.

"What we're asking the people to do now is pay attention, stay focused and listen to the directions," he said. "Hunker down with your family and friends and ride out the storm."

Lots of flight cancelled

As residents prepared for the possible one-two punch of storms, a 4.5-magnitude earthquake struck the Big Island but didn't cause major damage. There were no reports of injuries.

Travellers faced disrupted plans when at least 30 flights were cancelled Thursday from several airlines, including Delta, United, Air China and WestJet, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said.

American Airlines and US Airways cancelled flights in and out of the Big Island and Maui after 6 p.m. Thursday through noon Friday. Commuter airline Island Air cancelled some afternoon flights and shut down all operations Friday.

Hawaiian Airlines cancelled some inter-island flights for Thursday evening and moved its Maui-Los Angeles flight up by nearly five hours. The airline waived reservation change fees and fare differences for passengers who needed to alter their plans Thursday and Friday.

The storms are rare but not unexpected in years with a developing El ñNio, a change in ocean temperature that affects weather around the world.

Ahead of this year's hurricane season, weather officials warned that the wide swath of the Pacific Ocean that includes Hawaii could see four to seven tropical storms this year.

more video