By Jolyn Rosa and Terray Sylvester
HONOLULU (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Lane, greatly diminished from the major hurricane it once was, drifted away from the Hawaiian coast on Saturday, but lingering showers threatened to trigger more flooding and landslides.
The National Weather Service (NWS) lifted all remaining tropical storm warnings and watch advisories for Hawaii as trade winds finally began to nudge Lane off to the west.
But a flash flood watch remained in effect for Oahu, home to the state capital Honolulu and 70 percent of Hawaii’s 1.4 million residents, through Sunday morning, emergency management officials said.
Civil defence officials on the Big Island said more rain and flooding were also possible there, and a high-surf advisory was posted through the day for south- and east-facing shores of all the islands.
Lane’s maximum sustained winds dropped to 50 miles (80 km) per hour, but residual moisture would produce excessive rainfall that could lead to “additional flash flooding and landslides,” a weather service bulletin said.
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.
BIGISLANDBEARSBRUNT OF RAIN
Ahead of Lane, Hawaii residents had spent 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 the storm steadily weakened on Friday.
However, by then torrential showers 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 neighbourhoods 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 since Thursday, Hawaii County Civil Defence 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.
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 Category 5 hurricane with top sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph) earlier in the week while far from Hawaii, would diminish into a tropical depression by early on Sunday.
By Saturday morning the water had receded enough that many residents of Hilo were mopping up several inches of mud.
Jillane Bosscher, a 45-year-old chef, and her family spent Thursday night and Friday in a local shelter. By Saturday the water had receded enough that they were able to return home and start cleaning.
In another sign of improving conditions, most harbours 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.
(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, Marguerita Choy and John Stonestreet)