KAILUA-KONA — Hurricane Ana was on course Saturday to miss Hawaii by more than a hundred miles but was generating high waves, strong winds and heavy rains that prompted flash-flood warnings throughout the islands.
The center of the powerful Pacific storm was about 190 miles west of the Big Island and about 150 miles southwest of Honolulu, the National Weather Service said.
A tropical storm watch remained in effect on Oahu and Kauai but was lifted for Maui, Lanai and the Big Island.
The day began calmly for tourists and surfers enjoying popular Waikiki Beach, but gusty rain fell later in the day.
A downpour on the Big Island prompted officials to close Mamalahoa Highway in a region known for its coffee farms. It’s the only road connecting some communities to the eastern side of the island.
On Oahu, rain was falling on the island’s North Shore and Koolau Mountains, said Bob Burke, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“There’s a whole lot of heavy rain that’s approaching the island from the south and southeast,” he said.
Waves were expected to crest to 10 to 15 feet on the south shores of the islands and remain high through Sunday.
People took the storm warnings seriously on Kauai, which was devastated by Category 4 Hurricane Iniki in 1992 that killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes.
“Those of us that were here during that time remember, and so we are very cautious,” said Mary Daubert, a county spokeswoman. “Until she’s passed us, we all have to remain vigilant.”
The heaviest rains were falling along the southeast slopes of Mauna Loa, in the Puna district — which was hit hard recently by Tropical Storm Iselle — and the Kau district on the southeast side of the island. However, no one on the Big Island reported storm damage, said Darryl Oliveira, director of Hawaii County civil defense.
“So far it’s looking pretty good for Hawaii Island,” he said.
Lee Terry of Waiohinu, a small town in Kau, said the storm didn’t bring much wind, just heavy rain.
“It would come in sheets once in a while but no all-night downpour or anything like that,” Terry said, adding that he didn’t see any debris on a road to South Point — the southernmost point in the United States — as he would expect after bad weather.
He said people weren’t as worried about the current storm as much as they were about Tropical Storm Iselle in August.
“There was no sense of urgency about this one. That’s the way it played out,” he said.
Exact rainfall totals weren’t available but about 6 to 8 inches were expected, with some isolated areas possibly getting up to a foot.
Ana became a Category 1 hurricane Friday when it was about 230 miles south of Hilo. Large swells pounded the Big Island’s south shores, with 15-foot waves seen in Pohoiki Bay.
The storm had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph early Saturday and was churning along at 12 mph, slowing gradually as it turned further west and away from the island chain.
The hurricane was expected to gradually weaken and again become a tropical storm by Sunday afternoon, Burke said.
The American Red Cross closed its evacuation shelters on the Big Island and opened shelters on Oahu. Island Air suspended its Maui and Lanai flights Saturday afternoon and all flights Sunday, but airports remained open.
On Oahu, less rain was expected than previously predicted, but officials remained concerned about high surf, storm surge and flooding, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.
“It looks a little better, but we’re still preparing for the worst,” Caldwell said. “We don’t want to scare anybody if unnecessary, but we want to be ready.”
On the Big Island, supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate James “Duke” Aiona were undeterred by the elements as they stood in the rain waving signs.