HONOLULU (AP) — Barely holding on to hurricane strength, Iselle's outer edges brought rain and wind to Hawaii on Thursday as it approached landfall, poised to become the first hurricane or tropical storm to hit the island chain in 22 years and whose path another hurricane closely followed.
Even before its eye touched land, Hurricane Iselle knocked out power on parts of the Big Island, one of the least populated islands. Iselle was expected to pass over the Big Island, known for coffee fields, volcanoes and black sand beaches, early Friday morning and then send rain and high winds to the rest of the state later in the day.
As of 9:45 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time, Iselle was about 55 miles southeast of Hilo, National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Lau said. It was traveling at 15 mph and appeared to be slowing down, he said. The storm's predicted track had it skirting just south of the other islands.
"Whoop, there goes the power," 29-year-old Andrew Fujimura of Puna said as he spoke with an Associated Press reporter Thursday night. "It's fine. We'll just go to bed early tonight, I guess."
Fujimura was trading videos with a friend in Maui to help the friend see what weather conditions to expect. The videos show loud winds blowing through palm trees, white foamy waves chopping high onto shoreline shrubs and rocks — even a surfer riding rolling waves with an overcast sky on the Big Island's eastern shore.
Waves were breaking about 15 feet to 20 feet, Fujimura said.
"I can't say I'm too worried," he said. "Worst-case scenario, the power may go out a day or two. But we're prepared for that kind of stuff out here."
Emergency officials on the Big Island sent a warning to nearby residents after a geothermal plant accidentally released an unknown amount of steam containing hydrogen sulfide, a smelly, poisonous compound. Crews were working to control the release and monitor the emissions, while nearby residents were urged to evacuate if they experience discomfort, Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi's office said. It was not clear whether the release was directly related to the storm.
Forecasters were analyzing storm data before making possible changes to its categorization, Lau said.
"But we're not really too concerned about the track or the intensity of the system," he said. "We're primarily urging residents to still take proper precautions to prepare themselves to keep everyone safe."
Hundreds of people flowed into emergency shelters set up at high schools on the Big Island, one of which lost power. Crews worked to restore electricity to the shelter in Pahoa with at least 140 people.
Power also was lost Thursday evening in two communities on the Big Island: Waimea, a town of about 9,200 people near the island's north shore, and Puna, a district scattered with residents south of Hilo, Hawaii County Civil Defense officials said.
On Maui, power to a water treatment plant went out, prompting county officials to ask Kula residents in the middle of the island to conserve water.
People prepared for the storm by making last-minute trips to the store and boarding up windows at their homes.
"Everything outside is secured, and I've boarded up the picture windows," said Denise Latinen on the Big Island. "I feel good about being prepared for anything these storms bring us."
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