Iselle Update: Residents Venture Out After Storm Sweeps Over Hawaii

By Sean Breslin
Published: August 8, 2014

This article has been updated with the latest information on the ongoing impact of Tropical Storm Iselle to Hawaii.

Residents on Hawaii's Big Island were assessing damage on Friday after Iselle became the first hurricane to hit Hawaii in 22 years. ​Despite weakening to a tropical storm early Friday morning, Iselle knocked out power, caused flooding and downed trees when it crossed onto the Big Island. There have been no reports of deaths or major injuries, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Friday.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Julio, some 900 miles behind in the Pacific, was downgraded to 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.

Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa says, "For the most part, we were spared a direct impact, and we're very, very grateful." He reports that the island got 10 to 15 inches of rain in some areas and tree and power lines toppled, but electricity has been restored after isolated outages. 

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell gave Oahu "the all-clear" on Friday, allowing city services like buses and trash pickup to resume.

"People were seeing nice weather, and they were going about their business anyway," he said.

On Friday afternoon, residents and tourists wandered the beaches of Oahu and surfers took to the waves as wind and rain let up. Those staying in shelters were told to return home, while crews and some residents used chainsaws to clear trees from roads.

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.

(MORE: Track Iselle as It Moves Over Hawaii)

At about 2:30 a.m. local time (8:30 EDT), Iselle officially became the first tropical storm to make landfall on Hawaii's Big Island since 1958, and the first named storm to ever make landfall there, according to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. It's also the strongest tropical storm on record to make landfall on the island, packing maximum sustained winds of 60 mph when it came ashore about five miles east of Pahala.

Lingering Impacts

On Friday morning, residents were allowed to return home in all areas except Ka'u and Hamakua. 

Several highways were still closed including  Highway 132 between Kaaawa Flats to Naalehu and Highway 250. Power lines are down in the area. Maui County says Hana Highway at milepost 26 near Nahiku is now open. 

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed an emergency proclamation for the entire state that allows the state legislature easier access to emergency funding and personnel.

Some 21,000 homes were still without power Friday afternoon. Helco announced that they will implement rolling blackouts to conserve power.

The Red Cross reports to The Weather Channel that 30 shelters were opened statewide, and at least 630 people were in those shelters Friday morning. Most shelters had closed by Friday evening. 

(MORE: What to Have in Your Hurricane Preparation Kit)

Public schools on Oahu and Kauai islands were closed Friday, as well as the University of Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific University. 

Storm Snarls Air Travel

Passengers at Honolulu International Airport spilled out to the curb Thursday, and lines wrapped around the TSA screening area as people tried to leave before the storm hit.

After high winds hit Maui, California couple Rudy Cruz and Ashley Dochnahl left the island earlier than planned, getting to Oahu but failing to secure a flight back home.

"We were trying to beat it, but we now will have to ride it out," Cruz said.

An estimated 204,000 visitors are scattered across the Hawaiian islands on any given day, and hotel and tourism officials are delivering emergency information in multiple languages, said Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the tourism authority.

August is on the back end of the summer tourism boom in Hawaii, according to statistics compiled by the state. Nearly 750,000 people visited the state by air in August 2013, and about 130,000 of those visitors came to the Big Island.

Hilo International Airport closed early Friday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Honolulu, and the Department of Transportation encouraged travelers at all Hawaiian airports to check on their flight status with airlines. American Airlines, Island Air, Mokulele, United Airlines and US Airways all have canceled flights, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said.

Travelers were urged to stay in hotels instead of heading to the airport, unless their flight was imminent.

"It's very, very important that people understand that our airport is not set up to handle large crowds," Ford Fuchigami, interim director of the Hawaii's Department of Transportation, said in a press conference.

(MORE: Hurricanes in Hawaii ... How Unusual Is This?)

American Airlines and US Airways canceled all flights leaving or going to the Big Island and Maui after 6 p.m. HST Thursday. They expect flights to resume at noon HST Friday.

Hawaiian Airlines says interisland flights were canceled Thursday evening in Hilo, Kona and Maui. Commuter airline Island Air said earlier Thursday it would shut down all operations Friday.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority says United Airlines also canceled flights, but the carrier couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Several roads were reportedly closed due to downed trees, including Route 132, KHON 2 reports. 

Public bus service on Oahu and Maui will be unavailable Friday. The U.S. Coast Guard shut down ports on the Big Island, Maui and Oahu, arranging for barges and ships to leave the ports and seek sheltered waters.

The Hawaii National Guard sent the bulk of its aircraft to bases on the West Coast on Thursday morning so they wouldn't be damaged by the storm. Lt. Col. Charles Anthony says tankers can bring back people and supplies to deal with damage if needed.

Hawaii has been directly hit by hurricanes only three times since 1950, though the region has had 147 tropical cyclones over that time. The last time Hawaii was hit with a tropical storm or hurricane was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes in Kauai.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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