POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 8, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 3:57 a.m. HST, Aug 8, 2014
A weakening Iselle lost its hurricane status late Thursday as it began to arrive at Hawaii island on a predicted path that would take it south of the other islands.
Iselle brought gale-force winds, heavy rain, thundershowers, huge waves and storm surge.
The cyclone was expected to weaken further as it crossed Hawaii island and continued its march south of the rest of the state at 10 mph.
The Hawaii Police Department reported that the entire length of Kohala Mountain Road was closed due to fallen trees. In addition, Highway 11, or the Hilo to Volcano Highway, was reopened at the 19-mile mark.
Heavy rain and strong winds were reported in the Pahoa and lower Puna area.
Officials were urging residents in the coastal areas of Punaluu in the Kau area; Kalapana, Pohoiki and Kapoho in the Puna area; and Keaukaha in Hilo to be extremely careful and consider moving to higher ground, especially people right on the shoreline.
The eastern shores of Hawaii island saw waves of up to 25 feet.
The rest of the state, starting with Maui County, was bracing for tropical storm-force winds estimated in the 40- to 50-mph range, with higher gusts.
Rain was expected to be heavy throughout the islands Friday, with 4 to 8 inches and up to a foot in some areas. The windward sides are slated to get most of that moisture, but leeward sides are expected to see heavy rainfall as well.
Forecasters said the two 13,000-foot-plus mountains — Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa — were expected to help slow the storm's momentum, knocking the punch out of the strongest winds. They said the mountains would grab the bottom of the storm and hold it back while the top moves on.
"This will act to separate the system dramatically, which is why we're expecting it to drop off fairly quickly afterward," said Mike Cantin, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
Forecasters also said the Big Island's saddle and other natural valleys and "tunnels" across the state would act to focus some of the winds, leading to higher gusts. The strongest swath of winds — and their impact — is expected on the northern edge of the system, said National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Brenchley.
Officials said they were expecting the eye of Iselle to make landfall late Thursday night at or near hurricane strength. The strongest tropical storm tops off at 73 mph.
Swells across the state were rising Thursday. Maui County experienced waves up to 18 feet on its east coast, with 10 feet to 15 feet on south shores Friday. Oahu and Kauai were expecting 10- to 15-foot waves on east and south shores Friday.
"Do not get out there," Cantin said. "It's going to be very, very dangerous."
Meanwhile, Hurricane Julio strengthened into a Category 3 storm Thursday and was following Iselle about 1,000 miles behind. It was expected to follow a path north of the islands, but forecasters said that could change.
Meteorologists said Thursday they were hoping wind shear would tear the storm apart as it usually does to most of the tropical cyclones that approach Hawaii.
Wind shear, a pattern of upper level winds, usually works to degrade the structure of a cyclone, but the pattern of wind shear in the Central Pacific is lighter than normal.
GOV. NEIL Abercrombie appeared at a Central Pacific Hurricane Center press conference Thursday with his Cabinet members, saying the state government is prepared.
"There are no glum faces here," he said. "It's because we're confident. We're prepared, practiced and ready to respond."
He warned people to stay off the roads to allow emergency responders to do their work. Federal, state and county emergency officials were in place and ready.
"We're going to come through this in very, very good fashion," he said.
Civil defense sirens were not expected to be used throughout the state for any warnings related to the storm, officials said.
Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa, who on Wednesday declared a state of emergency for the four-island county, on Thursday urged residents to stay indoors or seek shelter.
"Get inside and stay alive," he said.
Families began trickling into Baldwin High School's gym in Kahului on Thursday afternoon.
Kahului resident Renee Fludd said she wanted to secure a spot in the gym near the restrooms for her family of 13, including five children. She said their home nearby is undergoing construction.
"There's a lot of loose materials at the house, so I figured it's safer here. I'd rather our property get damaged than one of us get injured," Fludd said.
Retailers on the ground level of the Queen Kaahumanu Center in Kahului began piling up sandbags across their storefronts Thursday afternoon.
Earlier Thursday morning, boat crews were securing vessels to the docks at Maalaea Harbor in southwestern Maui.
Jeff Becklund, senior captain for Trilogy Excursions, said his company canceled its scheduled snorkeling tours to Molokini for Thursday and Friday.
"We're getting ready for a major situation," he said Thursday morning as his five-man crew tied down the company's 65-foot catamaran. "The conditions are falling apart. For us it's not good."
Becklund said the crew planned to rotate shifts throughout the night to monitor the boat.
"High tide plus the storm surge, that's going to push the waves up pretty big and bring us up to the dock," he said.
In Honolulu the city agreed to operate 28 early-morning rush-hour express routes Friday morning to help workers in Waikiki and downtown Honolulu.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he agreed to a request by Waikiki tourism officials who told him, storm or no storm, the state's premier tourism destination will still be flocked with visitors at the height of tourism season.
"It is full," Caldwell said. "Every room is taken in Waikiki."
More than half of Waikiki's visitor industry employees bus into the area, said George Szigeti, president of the Hawai‘i Lodging and Tourism Association. "That's why it's so critical for this to be reinstated."
The buses will run from 4:30 to 7:30 a.m., assuming it is safe for the drivers and passengers to do so, the mayor said.
Besides making their regular stops, any of the express buses that normally don't go to Waikiki will make it their last destination so that more passengers can be accommodated, Caldwell said.
The 28 express buses that will run Thursday consist of all of TheBus' daily express routes except those that go to the Arizona Memorial, which is closed for the day.
They are Routes 80 (Hawaii Kai Park & Ride), 80A (Hawaii Kai Park & Ride/University of Hawaii), 80B (Upper Aina Haina), 81 (Waipahu), 82 (Hawaii Kai Park & Ride/Kalama Valley), 83 (Wahiawa Town), 84 (Mililani North), 84A (Mililani South), 85 (Windward/ Kailua), 85A (Windward/ Haiku), 88 (Kahaluu/Ahui-manu), 88A (North Shore), 89 (Waimanalo/Kailua), 90 (Pearl City) and 91 (Ewa Beach).
"That's to make sure that people are in Waikiki to take care of our visitors," Caldwell said. Bus service will then stop, and will resume sometime when the storm passes.
The mayor had announced Wednesday that all bus and TheHandi-Van service would stop when the last vehicles were finished with their routes Thursday night.
The only other bus service will be for those needing to travel to any of the 10 American Red Cross emergency shelters.
Go to thebus.org for further details about the express and shelter-related bus services.
Standard bus service will resume when it is prudent to do so, city officials said.
Caldwell declared Oahu to be in a state of emergency, allowing him to execute emergency powers during times of disaster.
He then announced that all nonessential city services will close Friday, asking about 8,500 workers to stay home.
The city also established a hotline for nonemergencies that the public can call: 768-CITY (2489). For emergencies, call 911.
Star-Advertiser reporters Nanea Kalani on Maui and Gordon Pang contributed to this report.