Tropical Storm Iselle buffeted Hawaii's Big Island and Maui early Friday, bringing heavy rains, strong winds, downed trees and power outages and sending many tourists packing home as the state braced for a second storm on Sunday that is expected to veer north and spare the islands of the brunt of its power.
Although Iselle was weaker than expected, it virtually shut down the state for a day as residents and hotel operators heeded warnings and prepared for the worst.
All tropical storm warnings were canceled by 8 p.m. Friday, state officials said during a media conference.
Efforts were underway for those who requested aid, officials said.
There were several road and highway closures and reports of damage to homes and buildings from fallen trees and strong winds, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency. There are also numerous reports of downed power lines across the island and Hawaii Electric Light has asked residents to conserve power as much as possible until further notice.
Iselle, a former Category 4 hurricane that has been weakening since Monday, moved over Maui on Friday afternoon and doused the Big Island with heavy rain.
Rain and gusty winds were expected in Oahu until the early evening. Oahu is now under a flood advisory after local officials gauged rainfall at 2 inches per hour on the island.
Local meteorologists warned residents to stay vigilant in the event of damaging flash floods and road closures. Residents are being allowed to return home in all areas on the Big Island except Ka’u and Hamakua, where storm conditions are continuing. Shelters will remain open in Laupahoehoe, Honka’a, Ka’u and Pahoa. More than 1,200 people had gone to shelters overnight Thursday.
Residents and tourists were ordered to stay out of the flood and storm water runoff because of the possibility of overflowing cesspools, pollution and other pathogens. "Turbid water runoff has been known to attract sharks due to possible dead animals being washed into the ocean," the state Health Department said in a statement. "This is definitely not the time to be recreating in Hawaiian waters.
When Kara Kahikina, a front desk representative at the Kona Coast Resort in Kailua-Kona, arrived at work at 6:30 a.m. local time, she opened the lobby doors and the power went out.
Luckily, Kahikina said, most of the nearly 500 guests were still sleeping and the electric company was able to fix the problem in just over an hour.
"It's not as bad as we thought it would be," Kahikina said. "If it was still a hurricane, it would've been way different. But we're used to tropical storms."
Because of the expected hurricane, people in town boarded up their stores and taped up windows, which isn’t normal tropical storm preparation, according to Kahikina. The hotel has emergency kits prepared at the front desk, including flashlights and cases of waters and has advised all guests to stay indoors for now.
"Seems like everyone listened and hunkered down and we've been able to withstand the main effects of the storm," said Lt. Col. Charles Anthony of the Hawaii National Guard.
Stan Lawrence, who closed and boarded up his surf shop in downtown Hilo on Thursday, rushed back to the store early Friday to check for flooding – stopping at a Starbucks on the way, which was closed.
Lawrence said that aside from heavy rain, the night wasn't too bad, though every so often he heard a loud "vrrr," when a strong 40- to 50-mph wind blew.
There was no flooding or water damage to his shop but he said he doubts he will get a lot of business Friday, noting that nearby stores are still boarded up.
"We lucked out," Lawrence said. "There's some minor flooding around town. It's still raining, and the rain is definitely worse than normal."
Debbie Arita spent all night working emergency operations at a KTA Super Store in Hilo, one of six stores the grocery chain owns on the Big Island.
"We could hear the wind howling through the doors," Arita said. "The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."
Arita said the store is out of water. She said she hopes that the downed trees and power lines blocking roads in Hilo don’t keep the vendors from bringing more later this morning.
Because Iselle has so far proved less destructive than expected, Arita said she doesn't expect another "round of panicked shopping" before rains and winds from Hurricane Julio affect the island later in the weekend.
“I doubt people will have used up all the food and supplies they’ve stocked up on,” she said.
The storm was weakening because of several factors, including wind shear chopping at the system and the Big Island's terrain above the water, said Chris Brenchley, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu.
But the winds and rain were strong enough that nearly all flights in and out of the island had been canceled. Public schools, universities, beach parks and national parks in the entire state were closed until the storm passed. All state offices are closed and will reopen Monday.
Bruce Kim, executive director for the state Office of Consumer Protection, announced a price freeze on all commodities and said any reports of price gouging would be investigated and, if substantiated, would be prosecuted to the fullest extent.
Hawaii Tourism Authority President Mike McCarthy said that hotels are prepared to implement their emergency plans and guests are advised to remain at their accommodations.
Atty. Gen. David Louie announced that state elections will proceed Saturday as planned, although some polling places may change. Current weather forecasts do not indicate that voting will be adversely affected, but officials are watching the storm closely.
About 21,000 customers were without power on the Big Island on Friday morning, according to the Hawaii National Guard. Maui County said that due to a power outage at the Olinda Water Treatment plant, around 700 customers were advised to conserve water.
Hurricane Julio, which has been traveling close behind Iselle, has been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane, sustaining maximum winds of 105 mph. Julio is expected to veer north of the Big Island, bringing rain and strong winds to the island, according to the National Weather Service.
Julio was last reported to be 860 miles east of Hilo and is moving northwest at 16 mph.