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Hawaii emerges from threat as storm veers away from islands

The Canadian Press logoThe Canadian Press 2018-08-26 Audrey McAvoy And Caleb Jones

HONOLULU - Hawaii emerged Saturday from the threat of a potentially devastating hurricane after historic amounts of rain forced evacuations on some islands but damage appeared less than feared.

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Tropical Storm Lane, once known as Hurricane Lane, began to break apart as it veered west into the open Pacific, leaving behind sighs of relief and plenty of cleanup, especially on the Big Island where rainfall totals approached 4 feet (1.2 metres).

No storm-related deaths have been reported, though Big Island authorities said they plucked families from floodwaters and landslides closed roads.

The National Weather Service cancelled all storm warnings for the state, several hours after shopkeepers in Honolulu's tourist-heavy areas already started taking down plywood meant to protect windows if the storm made it that far.

Preliminary figures from the weather service show that Lane dropped the fourth-highest amount of rain for a hurricane to hit the United States since 1950. Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Texas a year ago, topped the list.

The storm's outer bands dumped as much as 45 inches (114 centimetres) on the mostly rural Big Island, measurements showed. The main town of Hilo, population 43,000, was flooded Friday with waist-high water.

Authorities rescued 39 people from floodwaters Friday and Saturday, all in the eastern part of the Big Island where the rain concentrated, Hawaii County Civil Defence spokeswoman Kelly Wooten said. Teams were assessing damage, she said, but continued to focus on recovery efforts because it was still raining.

Big Island Book Buyers in Hilo opened as normal Saturday morning after owner Mary Bicknell saw a bit of sunshine and blue sky.

"Everybody is in pretty good spirits. It's kind of nice," she said of her customers before adding everyone was "hoping and praying it's over."

One of the island's volcanoes is erupting, and the rain could still cause whiteout conditions on some active lava fields when it hits the molten rock and boils off as steam.

About 200 miles (320 kilometres) and several islands to the northwest, tourists wandered Waikiki Beach and took leisurely swims as shopkeepers prepared to reopen.

Hotels began putting deck chairs back alongside pools. Dozens of surfers were in the Pacific, looking to ride small waves. The breeze was light.

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Winds were also calmer on Maui, which had seen about 12 inches (30 centimetres) of rain and wind gusts up to 50 mph (80 kph). On Saturday, winds were about 11 mph (18 kph). Like the Big Island, Maui experienced flooding and landslides.

Lane first approached the islands earlier this week as a Category 5 hurricane, meaning it was likely to cause catastrophic damage with winds of 157 mph (252 kph) or above. But upper-level winds known as shear swiftly tore the storm apart.

As flooding hit the Big Island, winds fanned brush fires that had broken out in dry areas of Maui and Oahu. Some residents in a shelter on Maui had to flee flames, and another fire forced people from their homes.

Flames burned nine homes in the historic coastal town of Lahaina and forced 600 people to evacuate, Maui County spokeswoman Lynn Araki-Regan said. Some have returned, but many have not because much of the area lacks power, Araki-Regan said.

Those outages meant the water provider on Maui's west side was unable to pump, so officials at the Maui Electric utility urged conservation — particularly important because firefighters need supplies to put out the remaining flames.

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The central Pacific gets fewer hurricanes than other regions, with only about four or five named storms a year. Hawaii rarely gets hit. The last major storm to hit was Iniki in 1992. Others have come close in recent years.

"It's great that it didn't get us," Nick Palumbo II, who lives and owns a surf shop on the island of Lanai, said of Lane.

He worried, however, that the near-miss would give residents a false sense of security. "We're going to get nailed one time, and people are going to not listen," Palumbo said, "exactly like 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf.'"

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Associated Press journalists Brian Skoloff and John Locher in Honolulu; Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska; Darlene Superville in Washington; and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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