Hawaii braces as tropical storm crosses islands
HONOLULU - Forecasters monitoring a tropical storm crossing Hawaii were still warning residents and tourists on Monday to brace for possible flooding, wind gusts, mudslides and big waves, even as the storm weakened on its journey. Earlier, local television stations extended morning news, pre-empting syndicated daytime shows to cover the storm's approach. But Tropical Storm Flossie faded through the morning, thanks to winds that broke layers of the storm apart, said Tom Evans, acting director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. Warnings about the storm didn't stop some tourists from heading to popular beaches, despite urgings from state officials to cancel all beach trips until further notice. In Waikiki, beaches were unusually sparse as those outside contended with overcast skies and rain ahead of Flossie's arrival.Kelly Tarkington, a 21-year-old college student from Savannah, Ga., got a sunburn from spending eight hours on the beach Sunday but had to take refuge from the rain under a beach umbrella Monday along with her aunt. "We just came to enjoy the beach - attempt to at least - and now it's pouring rain so we're under our umbrella. It's awful," Tarkington said. But Tarkington said the weather was mild compared with back home, so her experience won't stop her from returning to Hawaii. If it keeps raining, she said, she'll do more shopping. As of midday, the storm was centered about 65 miles north-northeast of Hilo on the Big Island, and 200 miles east-southeast of Honolulu. Michael Cantin, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu, said the storm would likely be downgraded to a tropical depression within 12 hours. He said it could be downgraded before hitting Maui if it keeps deteriorating at the same rate as much of Monday. "The weakening happened quite rapidly," Cantin said. Residents and government officials spent the weekend preparing for the storm's arrival. College campuses and courts were closed on Monday on the Big Island, and the Red Cross was gathering volunteers to staff 24 shelters statewide. The U.S. Coast Guard closed three ports - two on the Big Island where the storm was expected first and a third port on Maui. Airports statewide were open Monday but many flights were being canceled. Even in its weakened state, Cantin said Monday afternoon that Flossie's winds could potentially knock down power lines because of their unusual direction. Trails and campgrounds also were closed on the Big Island, where state officials warned people to avoid forest areas until Flossie clears. Officials warned people to finish necessary storm preparations early and leave their homes if asked by local officials. "I woke up to blue skies. It was just a beautiful day out," Ian Shortridge, 22, of Kealakekua, on the west side of the Big Island, said Monday. "It hasn't rained all morning. We are waiting for the rain." Shortridge said he saw McDonald's employees boarding up windows on Sunday. Store shelves were running low of essentials like bottled water and toilet paper, he said. Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed an emergency proclamation that allows the state to use its disaster fund to pay for staff overtime, supplies and other resources. The proclamation also gave state officials the option to call Hawaii National Guard members to duty. Michael Cantin, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu, said the storm would likely be downgraded to a tropical depression within 12 hours. He said it could be downgraded before hitting Maui if it keeps deteriorating at the same rate as much of Monday. "The weakening happened quite rapidly," Cantin said. As of midday, the storm was about 65 miles north-northeast of Hilo on the Big Island, and 200 miles east-southeast of Honolulu. Forecasters said the storm would likely bring rain of up to 6 inches on parts of the Big Island and up to 2 inches on other islands. The storm's 40 mph winds will continue to weaken, Evans said. Evans said tropical storm warnings will remain in effect for all of Hawaii's islands until Flossie is classified as a depression rather than a storm. The warnings mean the storm represents a threat to life and property. Melanie and Ian Jenkins of Portsmouth, England, tried to catch some sun lying on Waikiki Beach but were close to giving up as raindrops fell on the sand. "The showers are getting colder and colder each time, and I might give up in the next half hour," Melanie Jenkins said. "It's still warmer than England," her husband said.