Tropical Storm Iselle batters Hawaii with strong wind, heavy rain; another storm looms
HONOLULU (AP/ABC News) - The first tropical storm to hit Hawaii in 22 years clamored ashore Friday as a second system close behind it was on track to pass by the islands on Sunday.
Tropical Storm Iselle - packing 60-mph winds - knocked out power, caused flooding and downed trees when it crossed onto the Big Island in a rural and sparsely populated region.
Behind Iselle, is Julio, currently a hurricane that is expected to graze the state this weekend and into early next week with rain and rough surf. There could be a few strong squall lines extending from Julio that could bring gusty winds near 40 mph to the state.
But before residents and tourists deal with Julio, they are still reeling from the affects of Iselle. Fortunately, there were no reports of major injuries, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Friday.
Those staying in shelters were told to return home, while crews and some residents used chainsaws to clear trees from roads. About 21,000 homes remained without power on the Big Island, where morning rainfall rates were over 4 inches per hour.
Heavy rain, wind and high surf from the storm's outer bands also hit Maui and Oahu on Friday morning but eased later in the day as Iselle swirled further out to sea.
Honolulu's lifeguard division said about a dozen surfers were riding waves Friday at a spot nicknamed "Suicides," near the popular Diamond Head crater. Lifeguards on Oahu planned only to respond to emergency calls, avoiding regular patrols.
On Oahu's south shore, near Honolulu, the cloudy skies started to give way to patches of blue as tourists and residents ventured out to see the surf.
"We've never seen the water crash into the rocks the way they are. It's just beautiful," said Army Sgt. Steven Reyes, who drove to the coast after his home on a central Oahu Army base lost power.
Abercrombie stressed that even though the brunt of first storm hit the Big Island and Maui, Kauai and Oahu needed to remain vigilant for the second storm.
The weather poses a "unique situation" for the state, he said. "It's unprecedented. We haven't had anything like this happen in a long, long time."
The National Park Service said it would keep its popular memorial sites at Pearl Harbor closed through at least Saturday as staff keeps an eye on Hurricane Julio.
The state Department of Health warned the public to stay out of floodwaters and storm water runoff across Hawaii because they are known to attract sharks as they wash possible dead animals into the ocean.
On the Big Island, coffee farmers on the southeastern side tried to get around fallen trees on flooded roads to determine any crop damage, said Randy Stevens, general manager of Kau Coffee Mill.
"It's raining so hard we're just trying to get the roads opened up so we can get to the fields," Stevens said.
The heavy rain and flooding seen in the southeastern Kau district was vastly different from the relatively drier Kona region on the Big Island's western side, where much more coffee is grown, and the storm had little impact.
"We were all buttoned up, but nothing happened," said Bruce Corker, a Kona coffee farmer.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Julio, about 750 miles east of the Big Island, was a Category 2 storm and packed maximum sustained winds of about 105 mph. National Weather Service officials predict it will continue to weaken on a path that should take it about 200 miles north of the island chain starting sometime Sunday morning.
If Julio stays on track, "the impacts to the islands would be minimal," Weather Service meteorologist Derek Wroe said. "We would see some large surf. ... We could see some heavy showers. That's all assuming this track holds. Otherwise, we could still see some tropical storm conditions."
There remains uncertainty given its distance from land.
"We're not out of the woods yet with Julio," Wroe said.
Iselle also weakened Friday after being downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm about 50 miles from shore late Thursday as wind shear and the Big Island's mountainous terrain - including the high volcanic mountain "Mauna Loa" that is over 14,000 feet high - chipped away at its strength, experts said.
Hawaii has been directly hit by hurricanes or tropical storms only three times since 1950. The last time was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes in Kauai.
The state prepared for the back-to-back storms by closing government offices, schools and transit services across Hawaii. But Saturday's primary elections, including congressional and gubernatorial races, will go forward.
Travelers faced disrupted plans as several airlines canceled dozens of flights Thursday, but most flights weren't interrupted Friday. Some airlines waived reservation change fees and fare differences for passengers who needed to alter their plans.
The storms are rare in Hawaii but not unexpected in El Nino years, a change in ocean temperature that affects weather around the world.
Ahead of this year's hurricane season, weather officials warned the wide swath of the Pacific Ocean that includes Hawaii could see four to seven tropical storms this year.