Hurricane Lane weakens to tropical storm, but flood threat continues in Hawaii

Lane was downgraded to a tropical storm Friday, but it’s still drenching Hawaii with heavy rains and dangerous flash flooding.

The center of the storm — about 150 miles south of Honolulu on Friday — is not expected to come ashore though the eye wall could pass dangerously close to the central islands, including Oahu and Maui, in the coming days.

But it’s the Big Island of Hawaii — the easternmost island in the chain — that has been hammered hardest by rain. More than 35 inches fell in one spot over the past few days, causing serious flooding, landslides and road closures.

“The potential for excessive rainfall remains high, which could lead to life- threatening flash flooding, as well as land and mudslides,” Honolulu’s office of the National Weather Service said.

Lane will continue to pose numerous hazards across parts of the islands into the weekend, including strong winds, storm surges up to 4 feet above normal tides, and 10 to 20 inches of rain, forecasters say.

Track the storm here

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the islands have “dodged a bullet” and warned residents to remain vigilant as heavy rains still loom.

Forecasters say the storm is moving on a slow motion northwest and will move west on Saturday.

“This path will take Lane away from the islands,” the weather service said.

Numerous areas were under flash flood watches

Lane’s approach came as people on Maui dealt with a separate hazard: Two brush fires were burning, one that was forcing evacuations around the resort area of Lahaina.

Quiet morning in Honolulu

Honolulu had an unusually quiet Friday morning. Most stores closed at 4 p.m. HT on Thursday, and on Friday the streets were fairly empty, which is rare for Honolulu. The stray tourist could be found walking around attempting to find something open, but for the most part the streets were peaceful.

Only a few cars were driving down the main thoroughfare, Kalakaua Avenue, which backstops Waikiki Beach. Traffic was much less than usual; there were no tour buses, delivery trucks, or commercial traffic.

Most of the hotels had removed their pool furniture and sun shades, so pool areas look somewhat odd without anything surrounding them. Some hotels have their restaurants open, though seemingly operating at a very reduced staffing level.

The number of surfers and the number of big waves were down, too, when compared with Thursday.

Many tourists spent Friday afternoon getting some last beach time, as conditions were expected to deteriorate within hours.

Anticipating the storm

On Kauai, residents were waiting for the coming storm.

According to Hawaii News Now, many of them were hunkered down, having boarded up their homes and gathered supplies

“Making the kids enjoy themselves. Having family time together, just expecting the worse but hoping for the best,” Crystal Battulyan, of Puhi, said.

The family had brought board games in case the power went out.

Other residents were out in the churning surf.

“Oh it’s good! That’s why we’re here. Two days in a row,” surfer Kenny Kaufman told Hawaii News Now.

‘It’s going to hang around for a while’

As the hurricane got closer to Hawaii, Gov. David Ige urged residents to set aside two weeks’ worth of food, water and other necessities.

There have been some power outages in four counties, officials said.

Despite the flooding and landslides making headlines nationwide, some tourists were unfazed, with nearly 300,000 currently visiting the state, US Sen. Mazie Hirono said Thursday.

State and government officials prepare

State and federal officials are bracing for the storm, with Hawaii opening emergency shelters, closing some public schools for the rest of the week, and placing nonessential government workers on leave.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it has prepared food, water, generators and other commodities to help with emergency resources.

Some hospitals increased their weekend staffing and postponed elective procedures and surgeries Friday and Saturday in preparation for the influx of patients expected during natural disasters

“If it’s really catastrophic, you see things such as dehydration, exhaustion, infections,” Dr. Leslie Chun of the Queen’s Medical Center told CNN affiliate Hawaii News Now.

Up to 40 inches of rain expected

About 10-40 inches of rain is forecast in some areas through the weekend, which could trigger even more landslides and flash flooding.

A mix of a storm surge and waves will raise water levels up to 4 feet above normal tides along shores near Lane’s center, forecasters said.

“This is expected to result in significant beach erosion and overwash onto vulnerable coastal roadways today through Saturday as Lane makes its closest approach,” Ige said.

Excessive rainfall will lead to dangerous flash flooding, landslides and mudslides in areas that are already drenched. Forecasters believe the storm will turn west — away from the islands — but are uncertain when that will happen.

Flooding near Hilo led to voluntary evacuations, Hawaii county officials said. On one street, police and fire personnel are going house-to-house warning residents of severe flooding and recommending evacuation.

“If residents do not evacuate, first responders may not be able to reach them if the situation becomes too hazardous,” the statement said.

Most of the islands, including the Big Island are under a tropical storm warning, and the islands of Kauai and Niihau are under a tropical storm watch.

Lane’s landfall would be rare

The Central Pacific gets few hurricanes and tropical storms; the Atlantic or Eastern Pacific usually see many more named storms.

Hawaii is a small target in a vast ocean, and isn’t often threatened. Hawaii gets a named storm within 60 miles of its coastline about once every four years on average, forecasters say.

Lane could become a further rarity if its center crosses land. Only two hurricanes have made landfall in Hawaii since the 1950s: Hurricane Dot in 1959, and Hurricane Iniki in 1992.