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Big Island under flood advisory as rains move to west side

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

LAST UPDATED: 1:56 a.m. HST, Jul 30, 2013

HILO » A flood advisory remains in effect for Hawaii island at least through 6:15 p.m. as the brunt of Tropical Storm Flossie moved past Hilo and East Hawaii and began pestering Kailua-Kona and West Hawaii with heavy rains and high winds.

The lower Puna and Kau areas appeared to be the most badly hit portions of East Hawaii. The Hawaii Police Department reported fallen trees on Highway 132, the Pahoa-Kapoho Highway in the area of Lava Tree State Park. 

The highway was closed around noon but reopened about 2:30, Hawaii County Civil Defense officials said. 

More than 6,000 customers of the Hawaii Electrical Light Co., mostly from Volcano to Pahoa, lost power after high winds knocked down power lines in various areas of Puna, said Kristin Okinaka, HELCO deputy corporate communications officer.

At the peak there were about 6,300 homes and businesses without power, according to Hawaii Electric Light Co. That included 2,800 customers from Volcano to Glenwood, 2,200 customers from Kalapana to Nanawale and 1,300 in Panaewa. Power was restored to some areas, and by mid-afternoon there were 5,000 customers without power, HELCO reported.

Power has since been restored to about 500 customers, but HELCO crews are still working on the rest of the outages, Okinaka said about 3:45 p.m.

Portions of Kona and Kohala began feeling the brunt of the storm about mid-afternoon.

About 2:30 p.m., Kaiminani Drive near Pia Place, in a subdivision mauka of Keahole Airport, was closed for about half an hour due to a fallen tree, Civil Defense officials said. It has since been reopened.

The county's Hele-On bus service is expected to resume full operations on Tuesday. A single run of the Kohala-Hilo route is scheduled to go at 7:30 tonight.

In the central part of the island, rain fell but many residents went about their business like it was a normal day.

A Goodfellows Brothers crew of about half a dozen workers plugged along on a state Department of Transportation road widening project on Saddle Road near the Army's Pohakuloa Training Area.

One worker, decked out in rain gear, said the crew was scheduled to work a 10-hour shift.

At the Waimea Community Center in South Kohala, about a dozen people had walked into the emergency shelter staffed by American Red Cross workers and made inquiries about everything from whether showers were available (they're not) or whether the shelter could house pets, said volunteer Balbi Brooks.

One man who had been booted from his Spencer Beach Park camp site showed up to use the restroom at the community center, and then slept in the parking lot.

A woman, who declined to give her name, was waiting for the county's Hele-On bus service to be restored, or for someone to give her a ride to Puna.

Dave Richardson, Red Cross volunteer, said "this is like any other day in Waimea except the wind is blowing west to east." 

The island was getting the first punch of the weakening Flossie, which was barely holing on to its tropical storm status late this morning. By this afternoon, National Weather Service forecasters had lowered rainfall estimates for the island from up to 12 inches to 2 to 4 inches.

Earlier in the day, Hawaii island officials were preparing for the worst despite word that Tropical Storm Flossie was taking a slightly northern path as it reached Hawaiian waters around daybreak.

Hawaii island acting Civil Defense administrator Darryl Oliveira said he was told by National Weather Service officials that despite the somewhat rosier forecast, there was no change in the anticipated amount of rain or decrease in the strength of the winds headed toward the island.

"The most difficult thing is the track of this thing at this point and where it might make landfall — direct impact on the Big Island or whether it’s going to go in the (Alenuihaha) channel, or if it will just continue further north,” he said. 

A steady rain fell overnight in Hilo but nothing residents from the town once dubbed the wettest in the United States were getting exciting about. 

“That’s just Hilo,” Hoolulu Park Complex recreation specialist Dean Goya said of the rain as he and three American Red Cross volunteers sat in an empty Aunty Sally’s Luau Hale, the designated evacuation shelter for downtown Hilo, at 4:30 a.m.

The other eight shelters around Hawaii island: Pahoa Community Center, Laupahoehoe Charter School, Honokaa Sports Complex, Waimea Community Center, Hisaoka Gym in North Kohala, Mountain View School, Pahala Community Center, West Hawaii Civic Center.

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