At least 4 weather stations on the Big Island have reported over 40 inches of rain since Wednesday afternoon.
KONA, Hawaii – After Hurricane Lane rapidly weakened to a tropical storm, officials in Hawaii started the process of getting back to normal while warning residents that the threat of heavy rains and flash floods remains.
“There is still a lot of moisture in the air,” Gov. David Ige, D, said late Friday. “We want to encourage the public to stay vigilant.”
Parks, harbors and businesses began to reopen Saturday, and shelters cleared as residents learned that the storm was moving away from the islands. Airports braced themselves for the rush of people trying to get in and out of the island after several flights were canceled earlier in the week.
“We all planned for the very worst and hoped for the best, and I think we’re lucky,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Friday. “The good news is Lane got weak and fell apart. We dodged a bullet.”
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Lane has kept Hawaii residents on edge all week as one of the few Category 5 storms to approach so close to the islands in more than a decade. Lane is only the sixth storm to reach that intensity in the Central Pacific since 1959, according to The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang.
In the course of 24 hours, Lane quickly broke apart, going from Category 2 to a tropical storm and started moving westward. Although the winds have slowed, the moisture and flooding from the storm system will cause the most damage, officials said. Tropical storm watches and warnings were lifted shortly before noon here on Saturday, with another 5 to 10 inches of rain possible for Maui and the Big Island.
“Now it’s about getting back to the business of enjoying life in this incredible state,” Caldwell said.
Bryan Agustin, 36, lives in a low-lying area that floods often during rain in the working-class neighborhood of Kalihi on Oahu. He was one of many residents relieved that the storm took a turn.
“We’re just kind of bracing for whatever rain is coming right now,” Agustin said. “I feel a little bit more better than what I was a few days ago.”
The Big Island bore the brunt of the storm, with reported rainfalls in a three-day period topping 45 inches in some locations. The record rainfall from a cyclone event in Hawaii came in August 1950, when Hurricane Kiki dumped 52 inches in Kanaloahuluhulu on the island of Kauai, according to the National Weather Service.
Crews were working nonstop to remove debris from highways that were blocked from landslides.
“The landslides were nearly continuous with all of the heavy rain,” said Kelly Wooten, a spokeswoman for Hawaii County Civil Defense. “They were occurring as fast as crews could clear them.”
The agency didn’t have a clear estimate yet on the number of houses and structures damaged as crews were busy with rescues and clearing roads, Wooten said.
No fatalities have been reported, but more than 40 people on the Big Island had to be rescued after getting stuck in high or fast moving water over three days, Wooten said.
“The storm has basically passed but we will continue to see more rain through the weekend,” Wooten said. “Damage assessments and recovery efforts are just beginning.”
The rain started to slow on the east side of the Big Island by early Saturday morning, said Vanessa Almanza, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Almanza said residents remain stranded in their homes because of the flooding, which turned streets and creeks into gushing brown rivers.
The rain from Lane saturated Hilo Airport with 31.5 inches of rain between Aug. 22 to 24, the wettest three-day period since 1949, Almanza said.
Crews throughout the state worked to restore power and water service to areas in Oahu and Maui. Officials in Maui County warned residents to conserve water as tankers made their way to help until water pumps could come back online.
Storm response efforts on the island of Maui were complicated after at least four wild fires broke out, fanned by the winds of Lane. By Friday night, most of the fires were contained and people evacuated returned to their homes.
Anabel Febreo, 50, has lived in Hawaii for 35 years. She’s been around hurricanes her whole life, but this warning felt different. She prepared to evacuate her Oahu home and became emotional when she found out the storm dissipated.
“Thank you Lord that we never get hit,” Febreo said, “because I really worry about what will happen to us if we get hit.”
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Teague reported from Oahu. Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang in Washington contributed to this report.