Flossie Edges Past Hawaii Island
HONOLULU (Reuters) - Hurricane Flossie was downgraded to a tropical storm hours after sending powerful waves, wind and rain toward the island of Hawaii's southern coast late on Tuesday.
The hurricane watch for the big island of Hawaii was cancelled, but a flash flood watch remained in effect, the National Weather Service in Honolulu said.
Flossie gradually weakened on its westward path that skirted the Pacific archipelago, falling to a Category 2 storm with winds of 100 miles per hour, before being downgraded to a tropical storm, the National Weather Service said.
Known as "the Big Island," Hawaii is the largest in the U.S. Pacific Hawaiian island chain, which has not been hit by a hurricane in 15 years.
Officials took no risks with Flossie. They declared a state of emergency for the Big Island on Monday, closed schools and parks, set up shelters and told the island's 160,000 people to stay clear of the coast through Wednesday.
Surf was as high as 20 feet, likely to produce localized flooding and shoreline erosion, the weather service said. It said there were sustained winds of 40 miles per hour , with gusts to around 50 miles per hour.
South-facing areas of the island were expected to be hit hardest, with 5 to 10 inches of rain also expected.
The other Hawaiian islands and the biggest city, Honolulu, were likely to see some surf and rain, but no major weather hazards.
WEAKENS FROM CATEGORY 4
The Pacific storm had been a more powerful Category 4 on forecasters' five-step scale of hurricane intensity, but slowed to a Category 2 storm as it hit cooler Pacific waters. A Category 2 storm is capable of inflicting moderate damage if it hits land.
The challenging weather hit Hawaii less than 24 hours after a 5.4 magnitude earthquake shook the volcanic island on Monday. No injuries or damage were reported.
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle proclaimed a state of emergency on Monday for the island of Hawaii and an advance team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency was already in Honolulu.
Ahead of Flossie, residents of the Big Island were urged to stock up on food and water, keeping the stores open later than usual on Monday.
"There's a tremendous sense of community here as people work together to brace for the storm," said Coralie Chun Matayoshi, American Red Cross Hawaii state chapter executive director. "The 11 shelters we've set up are all run by volunteers."
The last time a hurricane hit Hawaii was in 1992, when Iniki caused six storm-related deaths and an estimated $2.4 billion in damage, mostly on the island of Kauai.