HONOLULU (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Lane, greatly diminished from the major hurricane it once was, drifted away from the Hawaiian coast on Saturday as lingering showers spread across the island chain, threatening to trigger more flooding and landslides.
But as trade winds finally began to nudge the storm off to the west, away from land, the National Weather Service (NWS) lifted all remaining tropical storm warnings and watch advisories for the state of Hawaii.
A flash flood watch remained in effect for Oahu, by far the most developed and populated island, through Sunday morning, local emergency management officials said. And civil defense officials on the Big Island said they were bracing for the possibility of more rain and flooding as well.
In addition, a high-surf advisory also was posted through the day for south- and east-facing shores of all the islands.
Lane’s maximum sustained winds dropped to 50 miles per hour (85 km per hour), but lingering moisture from the storm “will produce excessive rainfall this weekend, which could lead to additional flash flooding and landslides,” the latest weather service bulletin said.
Concern about a slow-moving storm hovering close to shore while saturating the islands was heightened by the scenario that played out after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas one year ago Saturday, then stalled over the Gulf Coast as it drenched the region in rain for several days, causing devastating floods.
The NWS canceled tropical storm warnings that had been posted earlier for Oahu, the resort island of Maui and the smaller, neighboring islands of Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe. A tropical storm watch for the island of Kaui, farther to the north, also was lifted.
The turn of events was welcomed by residents who spent much of the past few days stocking up on food, water, gasoline and batteries and boarding up their windows.
The island chain was spared the calamity of a direct hit from a major hurricane as Lane steadily weakened on Friday into a tropical storm as it crept northward through the Pacific toward Oahu.
BIG ISLAND BEARS BRUNT OF RAIN
By Friday, torrential showers from the storm had drenched the windward side of Hawaii’s Big Island for more than two days, unleashing severe flooding and mudslides that forced multiple road closures and damaged or destroyed a number of homes and other structures, authorities said.
At least two neighborhoods around Hilo, the largest city on the Big Island, were evacuated on Friday, and emergency teams have rescued more than 50 people trapped by high water, some in their cars, since Thursday, Hawaii County Civil Defense spokeswoman Kelly Wooten told Reuters by phone.
“I’ve never seen this, so much devastation of the river flowing down off of Komohana,” said one long-time Hilo resident, Tracy Pacheco. “I just came from Pahale Park, and there’s no park.”
Rains finally abated on the Big Island on Saturday, she said.
But heavy downpours and flooding could recur there, and spread to Maui and Oahu, home to the state capital of Honolulu and 70 percent of Hawaii’s 1.4 million residents, before the storm drifts farther out of range, the weather service warned.
Hilo received more than 31 inches (79 cm) of rain from Wednesday through Friday, its largest three-day total since records began in 1949. Some areas received more than 45 inches, the weather service said.
Forecasts predicted that Lane, which peaked as a deadly Category 5 hurricane with top sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph) earlier in the week while far from Hawaii, will diminish into a tropical depression by early on Sunday.
In another sign of improving conditions, most harbors around the state were reopened or placed on “hurricane preparedness” status allowing shippers to resume operations with caution, a according to the state Transportation Department.
On the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai, evacuees have returned home from emergency shelters, and those facilities were being closed, local officials reported.
New Yorker Rigo Pagoada, 43, who was on vacation on Oahu with his family, said he felt lucky it had been largely spared, but that it was sad to see what had happened on the Big Island.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Pagoada said.
Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Diane Craft in Kailua and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Steve Gorman; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Marguerita Choy
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