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updated: 8/9/2014 3:58 PM

Hawaii's storms now more a scare than a threat

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  • A boy holds an umbrella to a wave Friday in Kailua-Kona on the island of Hawaii.

      A boy holds an umbrella to a wave Friday in Kailua-Kona on the island of Hawaii.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

HONOLULU -- The one-two hurricane punch that was supposed to hit Hawaii is looking more like a jab and a missed left hook.

After Hawaii cleared Tropical Storm Iselle largely without deterring sunbathers and surfers, the state looked toward Hurricane Julio, which was expected to pass roughly 160 miles northeast of the islands at its closest point early Sunday and linger near the state into Monday.

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While prospects for Julio could quickly change, the storms appear to have been more a scare for Hawaii than a significant threat.

"This was no Sandy or Katrina or any other storm that you remember the name of," said Sylvia Dahlby, 58, of Hilo, on the Big Island, which took the brunt of a weakening Iselle. By late Friday, the National Weather Service had canceled all storm watches and warnings for the state.

Iselle knocked down power lines, phones and trees, but it not did not cause major damage or injuries.

Wind and rain swept through Maui, Oahu and Kauai and lingered on the Big Island. But people were out and about throughout Hawaii on Friday afternoon after a nonexistent morning commute in usually congested Honolulu and elsewhere.

Two communities in Puna, on the Big Island, were isolated by damaged roadways enough to prompt elections officials to postpone voting for two precincts, though state officials said the rest of a primary election planned for Saturday would continue as planned. The ticket in heavily Democratic Hawaii includes two marquee primaries, a Senate race and a governor's race, plus a wide-open House race.

Shawncee Guerrero, a cashier at a surf shop in Waimea on the Big Island, said the scariest part was not knowing what elements were coming or how severe they would be.

"Now we have to wonder what's next," Guerrero said as she worked while waiting for power to be restored at her home with her family in Honokaa.

While it lacked power, Iselle was the first tropical storm to hit Hawaii in 22 years. Hurricanes or tropical storms had directly hit Hawaii only three times since 1950, and the last time was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes in Kauai.

After Iselle hit, coffee farmers on the Big Island navigated flooded roads to assess damage to their crops.

Those staying in shelters were told to return home, while crews and residents used chain saws to clear trees from roads on the Big Island.

On Oahu, surfers rode waves where they could, despite a warning from lifeguards that they would only respond to emergency calls.

"I'm just going to hit the hurricanes and then leave," said Scott Bush, a California surfer who booked tickets to Honolulu with his 14-year-old son after hearing about the possibility of two hurricanes. He planned to surf until the middle of next week.

"The power of the ocean is just incredible," Bush said.

Tourists wouldn't be able to visit the popular memorial sites at Pearl Harbor in Oahu, which were closed through Saturday as the National Park Service keeps an eye on Hurricane Julio. That storm was about 500 miles from the Big Island early Saturday with maximum sustained winds of close to 100 mph.

The National Weather Service said rain from the remnants of Iselle falling on already saturated ground threatened possible flash flooding in Kauai County and Oahu until noon HST Saturday.

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 dead animals into the ocean.

The state prepared for the back-to-back storms by closing government offices, schools and transit services across Hawaii. Several airlines canceled dozens of flights Thursday, but most flights weren't interrupted Friday. Some carriers waived reservation-change fees and fare differences for passengers who needed to alter their plans.

The storms are rare in Hawaii, but they are 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.

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