Hurricane Lane took aim at the Hawaiian islands on Friday, bringing torrential rains that immersed a city in waist-deep water and forced some residents and tourists to flee flooding homes.
Others flocked to Honolulu’s famed Waikiki Beach to jump off seawalls with boogie boards into the turbulent ocean.
As many dealt with flooding and even brush fires, swimmers and surfers ignored warnings from authorities and plunged into powerful waves at the closed beach on Oahu — the most populated island.
Emergency officials said repeatedly over loudspeakers: “Please get out of the water! It’s very dangerous!”
The storm weakened to a Category 1 with winds of 74 to 95 mph as it headed north towards the Hawaiian islands, the US National Weather Service said.
It was expected to veer west, skirting the islands, but still threatened to bring heavy rains and strong, gusty winds across the state, meteorologist Gavin Shigesato said.
A hurricane watch for Hawaii’s westernmost inhabited islands, Kauai and Niihau, was downgraded to a tropical storm watch.
But the hurricane centre warned that Lane’s slow movement increased the potential for prolonged heavy rainfall that was expected to cause major flash flooding and landslides.
The outer bands of the hurricane dumped as much as three feet of rain on the mostly rural Big Island in 48 hours. The main town of Hilo, population 43,000, was flooded on Friday with waist-high water as landslides shut down roads.
A different type of evacuation took place on Oahu.
Officials with Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources transferred about 2,000 rare Hawaiian snails from a mountain marsh to offices in Honolulu.
Some of the snails are literally the last of their kind.
In Waikiki, the man-made Ala Wai Canal is likely to flood if predicted rains arrive, said Ray Alexander of the US Army Corps of Engineers.
“The canal has flooded in the past, and I believe it’s safe to say based on the forecast of rainfall it’s likely to flood again, the impacts of which we aren’t prepared to say at this time,” he said.
Away from the high-rise hotels of Waikiki, Crystal Bowden, a tourist from California, watched powerful waves crash against cliffs on Oahu’s southeast coast.
“I came in to visit, got here just in time for the hurricane,” she said. “We’re kind of excited.”
Almost 16,000 homes and businesses on the islands lost power as the outer edges of the hurricane battered the islands, but service was restored to some.
The central Pacific gets fewer hurricanes than other regions, with about only four or five named storms a year. The last major storm to hit Hawaii was Iniki in 1992.