Hurricane Julio weakens, goes north of Hawaii as state still copes with aftermath of last storm
HONOLULU, Hawaii (AP/WJLA) — Hurricane Julio weakened Sunday and moved away from Hawaii, with forecasters concluding it would not pose a threat on the heels of a damaging tropical storm that left a swath of the state still coping with power outages and downed trees.
On the island of Kauai, rescuers found the body of a 19-year-old woman believed to have been swept away while hiking Friday in a closed state park during a tropical storm warning.
Julio, which was downgraded to the least powerful Category 1 level, was about 400 miles northeast of Maui on Sunday and moving further north. John Bravender, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said Julio's winds had weakened to about 90 mph.
Sunshine and blue skies returned to parts of Hawaii on Sunday, allowing tourists in Oahu and other popular parts of Hawaii to get back to their beach vacations, after days of heavy rain and gusting winds brought by Tropical Storm Iselle - the first to make landfall in more than two decades.
Bravender said Julio was affecting trade winds that usually keep the islands cool, so hot, muggy weather was expected through the first half of the week.
"We'll build back to the tropical paradise we've come to love," Bravender said of the second half of the week.
Iselle made landfall Friday over the lower Puna region of Hawaii's Big Island, bringing heavy rains, unleashing violent winds and toppling trees.
"It's like camping right now," Gene Lamkin said from a cellphone he charged using a generator after his electricity failed in Puna. "We're using water from our catchment system to bathe ourselves, shampoo our hair—trying to remain in a civilized manner."
Puna, which is home to about 40,000 people, had the bulk of around 9,200 customers still without power, according to Hawaii Electric Light Co. The utility warned those in the dark to expect an extended outage. At the height of the storm, about 25,000 customers lost electricity.
Lamkin knows life in the mostly agricultural Puna region, where unpaved roads of volcanic rock are not maintained by the county, means being prepared for the worst.
"We invested in a generator years ago, but this is the first time we've had to use it at a full-time capacity. We always have our shelves stocked with food and water," he said.
Coffee farmers navigated flooded streets to check on their crops and residents used chain saws to help break up fallen trees blocking roads. Supplies were being flown into the area, officials said.
"The game plan that we have for (the Big Island) is well underway. The roads are being cleared ... electricity's being restored; ice and water's being delivered right now," Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Sunday.
The storm damage brought an intense spotlight to the Big Island's Puna district after U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa locked into a dead heat for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. The race was too close to call Sunday without votes from nearly 8,300 registered voters in two precincts that will vote through mail-in ballots after election officials postponed Saturday's primary there because of downed trees and a lack of power.
The Puna region is as big as the island of Oahu. Although it's quickly growing because of affordable property, it's nowhere near as populated as the tourist destination home to Waikiki Beach and Pearl Harbor.
Surfboards and kayaks were back Sunday at Waikiki Beach as people went about jogging, swimming and lying on the beach.
Tourists Ginny and George Gardner, who were celebrating their 42nd wedding anniversary, spent an extra day on Oahu after Iselle delayed their flight to Maui.
"We're from Boston. This wasn't a storm for us ... it was just a normal windy day," Ginny Gardner said.
Meanwhile, in Puna region, lines of cars snaked around a fire station giving away water, tarps and ice, which is in short supply for those without power.
Still, many were relieved that Iselle didn't pack a bigger punch throughout the island chain.
"This was no Sandy or Katrina or any other storm that you remember the name of," said Sylvia Dahlby, 58, of the Big Island's Hilo area.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira worries, however, that there still could be injured people rescuers can't reach.
"We're hopeful even with the damage, we don't have casualties that are unaccounted for," he said.