KIHEI, United States: Hawaii breathed a sigh of relief after escaping serious damage from Tropical Storm Iselle on Friday, but officials warned the holiday paradise was not out of the woods as a hurricane churned towards the islands.
The Pacific Ocean idyll has spent the week bracing for the unprecedented one-two punch from two powerful storms, Iselle and Julio, expected to make a direct hit on the islands.
But Iselle lost steam as it lashed Hawaii with strong winds and heavy rain early Friday, causing only minimal damage on the Big Island and Maui, where some trees were downed and roads were closed.
Hawaii officials said at the height of the storm about 1,000 people had huddled in shelters on the Big Island, with most having already returned home by Friday morning.
A flash flood warning for Maui has been cancelled, while about 200 people remain without power on the second largest island.
A flood advisory remained in place for the Big Island, where power outages had affected some 20,000 people at one point.
Governor Neil Abercrombie urged vigilance, however, saying “we are not able to give the all-clear until later this afternoon.”
Meteorologist Mike Cantin, from the National Weather Service, meanwhile warned “the rivers are high, the streams are moving fast and the threat remains.”
Julio could bring another two to five inches for Hawaii and 3-5 inches for Maui.
“Don’t run back to the stores and return your supplies,” Cantin told a press conference, warning “people need to keep an eye on the situation.”
On Maui, many tourist activities such as diving and snorkeling trips remained closed.
Popular tourist attractions such as the Maui Ocean Center were also cancelled.
Surfers however were back in the water on Friday, taking advantage of empty beaches and big waves.
A primary election for both candidates for governor and to the US Senate, due to take place on Saturday, will go ahead as planned.
Lurking behind Iselle was Hurricane Julio, packing maximum sustained winds of 105 miles (165 kilometers) per hour as it approached the popular archipelago, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said.
Iselle may have been downgraded, but it was still accompanied by top winds near 60 miles per hour, CPHC forecasters said, adding it was expected to further weaken over the next two days.
Hours before Iselle’s impact, Island Air announced it was cancelling all its inter-island flights scheduled for late Thursday and Friday. Hawaiian Airlines also dropped connections, while United Airlines and US Airways snapped links with mainland Los Angeles and Phoenix.
Julio, the fourth major hurricane of the Eastern Pacific season, was about 770 miles east of Hilo, according to the CPHC. On its current trajectory, it was forecast to pass to the north of Hawaii starting late Saturday.