HILO, Hawaii (AP) — A tropical storm left parts of Hawaii’s Big Island soggy but intact Thursday as residents of the island state prepared for a second round of potentially volatile tropical weather.
Hawaii Island was pummeled with heavy rains and powerful waves overnight, but residents woke to blue skies and little damage after Madeline skirted the island. Hurricane Lester remains on track to affect the islands this weekend and was upgraded to a Category 3 storm Thursday afternoon, with a hurricane watch in effect on the Big Island, Maui County and Oahu.
“So, really grateful for this respite today. I saw the sun this morning when I was driving into work,” Kanani Aton, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii County civil defense agency, said Thursday.
With one storm barreling toward the island state after another, some Hawaii residents said they’re developing a special skill at preparing for storms, in a cycle of boarding up windows and then taking the protections down, again and again.
“We went through this last year, we had three coming at us, and this year again,” said Virginia Branco, interim manager of the Mokupapapa Discovery Center in Hilo. “I think we’re getting used to the pace of it.”
On the Big Island, several roads and a bridge that were closed because of flooding reopened, and county services were resuming Thursday. Water receded after waves crashed into a seawall that surrounds Liliuokalani Gardens Park at Hilo Bay. Water had accumulated on the grass of the gardens, leaving stairs of a pavilion partially submerged.
Before the storm brushed by, some merchants had placed plywood on windows facing Hilo Bay. But other windows that hadn’t been covered didn’t show signs of damage at first light Thursday.
Harry Pomerleau checked out one of 40 vacation rentals he manages on the Big Island Thursday, estimating about $500 worth of damage from Madeline.
“I’ve got moved furniture, missing lights,” Pomerleau said. “We were bracing for a much more major storm. This one was not that bad. It kind of hit us light.”
Hurricane Lester, now a major storm, is on a track to pass just north of the island chain and the eye of the storm isn’t expected to make landfall. But if the storm veers to the south it could have a much greater impact, said Ian Morrison, meteorologist from the National Weather Service says.
Lester was expected to slowly weaken and remain a hurricane as it passes the state Saturday and Sunday. The eastern part of the state could be hit with heavy rains and tropical storm or hurricane-force winds starting Friday night, Morrison said.
Maui County officials were busy Thursday preparing for possible impacts from Lester, and were deploying generators, topping out fuel and planning to open emergency shelters. Schools, courts and government offices on Maui were set to close at noon Friday.
Maui County Emergency Management Officer Anna Foust reminded residents and visitors that every storm is different, and they shouldn’t let their guard down because the first of two storms wasn’t severe.
“Our island is small enough that an event of this size could impact all areas,” Foust said. “We are a little concerned that people will not take this one seriously…This one looks like it’s going to actually give us some significant impacts.”
On Oahu, gusty winds blew through Wednesday night with power lost in some Honolulu neighborhoods. Transformers were seen flaring in one hillside community overlooking the state’s largest city as the lights went dark.
Some tree branches were littering the ground Thursday morning, but no major damage was immediately visible.
The storm didn’t keep President Obama from visiting Honolulu Thursday on his way to Midway Atoll.
“We had nothing to alarm us,” said Kalei Makua, a retired mason who lives in Hawaiian Beaches on the Big Island. “Maybe 25 to 30 miles an hour wind, moving the albizias (trees)…Getting ready for that next one.”
The U.S. Coast Guard re-opened ports, and schools on the Big Island were set to re-open Friday.
One business was thinking ahead to Lester as they boarded up windows at Hulakai Store, a surf shop in Hilo, on Wednesday ahead of Madeline. “We’ll probably keep it up till Sunday, waiting for the second one to come through,” said supervisor Renee Balanga.
Gov. David Ige has issued an emergency proclamation for both Madeline and Lester, allowing the state to quickly spend money.
Elsewhere, forecasters say Tropical Storm Hermine could strike the South as a hurricane.
A hurricane warning was in effect for Florida’s Big Bend from the Suwannee River to Mexico Beach. And on the East Coast, a tropical storm warning was issued for an area extending from Marineland, Florida, northward to the South Santee River in South Carolina.
AP writers Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, and Cathy Bussewitz, Caleb Jones and Josh Lederman in Honolulu contributed to this report.