Sluggish Felicia loses strength, but rain, big surf still expected


POSTED: Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Expectations for Tropical Storm Felicia diminished from a threat of devastation to a promise of heavy rainfall for Maui and Oahu today as the former Category 4 hurricane slowed in its westward path past the island chain.

“;The real story at this point is not the intensity of wind, but that we are going to get a great deal of rain,”; said Jim Weyman, director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. “;We can expect 2 or 3 inches, with showers locally up to 5 inches. As long as the rain doesn't come down hard, it could be beneficial.

“;Just because it's downgraded, people shouldn't relax their preparedness,”; he said. A flash flood watch for Oahu and Maui counties remains in effect, as is a high-surf advisory.

“;We will see high surf even if Felicia is downgraded; it had a long period of time pushing the surf before it reached the islands,”; Weyman said.

City lifeguards reported two rescues at Sandy Beach and three rescues and five assists at Makapuu.

Maui County planned to open nine shelters last night on Maui, Molokai and Lanai as the edge of the swirling weather system was expected to bring the first showers early this morning.

The National Weather Service said the storm will be over Maui by late morning and pass south of Oahu late this afternoon.

Public schools will be open, but the state Department of Education advised parents to make alternative plans for the prospect of school closings. Two Big Island charter schools were closed yesterday, and one of them, Kua o ka La in Pahoa, remains closed today.

;[Preview]  State Civil Defense Prepares for Storm

State civil defense officials say they are getting harbors ready, clearing drainage culverts and getting equipment ready for emergency response.

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;[Preview]  Emergency Management Preparations

Although officials planned to open shelters tonight, the city says it will wait until tomorrow due to the storm weakening.

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City crews on Oahu have worked for the past several days to clear debris from streams in anticipation of flooding threats.

“;The city's Department of Emergency Management is tracking the progress of the storm, and we've put first-responder agencies on alert to deal with any crisis,”; said Mayor Mufi Hannemann. “;In addition, the city is prepared to open emergency shelters for those who may need temporary quarters.”; No shelters were opened yesterday.

Marsha Wienert, state tourism liaison, said the storm has not harmed Hawaii's tourism industry.

“;I have not seen any cancellations,”; she said. She also said hotels are ready for the storm.

Felicia peaked as a Category 4 hurricane with winds topping 140 mph on Thursday when it was still in the Eastern Pacific. At 8 p.m. yesterday it was barely a tropical storm, with sustained winds of 40 mph and higher gusts.

Several state parks closed on Maui. The county also shut down camping areas as well as parks on east-facing shores as a precaution.

At Lahaina Harbor, several vessels normally anchored outside have been able to find a protected space.

“;We're accommodating those where we can find a spot for them,”; said Lahaina Harbormaster Hal Silva by telephone.

Silva said the harbor was generally closed as of yesterday afternoon, and the vessels were tied up, in preparation for Felicia.

In North Kohala on the Big Island, store owners were relieved that the storm had weakened and skirted them.

“;We got ourselves prepared for the worse,”; said Natalie Edholm, owner of Paradise Postal Service. “;Thank God, it's not happening.”;

The first hurricane threat of the season gave government and other response agencies a readiness drill.

The state Department of Transportation announced that it placed heavy equipment around the islands to respond to potential damage to highways. It has emergency backup generators at all airports in case of power failure. The Harbors Division has been in contact with commercial harbor tenants and users in case they need to relocate.

Matson and Young Bros. cargo vessels left Honolulu yesterday and were scheduled to arrive in Kahului this morning, said Tammy Mori, state transportation spokeswoman, and Norwegian Cruise Lines' Pride of America departed Kahului yesterday and was due to arrive in Hilo today.

The Coast Guard issued alerts to mariners to monitor conditions and if necessary to move their vessels to safe havens or remove small boats from the water.

The American Red Cross put out a call for more volunteers to join those who are on standby to respond to storms by operating shelters, providing food and other services.


Star-Bulletin reporters Gregg K. Kakesako and Nelson Daranciang contributed to this report.