HONOLULU (AP) — A powerful Pacific storm was passing “dangerously close” to Kauai, prompting the forecasters to issue a tropical storm warning for the Hawaiian island.
Early Sunday, the center of Hurricane Ana was about 120 miles south of Kauai and 125 miles southwest of Honolulu, the National Weather Service said.
Senior forecaster Tom Birchard said island beaches have been buffeted by 10- to- 15-foot surf but heavy rains have largely held off. He said early Sunday the warning could remain in effort for several more hours.
The hurricane was packing sustained winds of 80 mph. But it has lost some momentum, moving along a northwestern track at just 6 mph, compared with 14 mph earlier.
Meanwhile, the weather service issued a hurricane watch for parts of the remote northwestern Hawaiian islands, saying hurricane conditions are possible sometime late Monday around the island of Nihoa in a largely uninhabited marine sanctuary.
Since the tempest grew to hurricane force on Friday, it has moved generally parallel to Hawaii’s islands, with the center remaining more than 100 miles from land.
The result has been high surf, occasional heavy rains and strong winds in parts of the island, but no reports of significant damage.
Still, the storm was being taken 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.”
Officials said three emergency shelters were opened on Kauai as a precaution.
The NWS said the storm was expected to pass “dangerously close” to Kauai with the eye coming within 115 miles of the island, closer that first predicted.
Earlier in the day, strong winds and heavy rains prompted flash-flood warnings and lured surfers with high waves.
A tropical storm watch remained in effect on Oahu but was lifted for Maui, Lanai and the Big Island.
On Oahu, tourists and surfers at popular Waikiki Beach enjoyed ample waves created by the storm in the early afternoon that later gave way to choppy water.
“When the waves are good, you’ve got to get in,” said surfer Emile Meder, 23, who squeezed in a session before heading to work. “Every time we have a hurricane we know it’s going to be good.”
Rain fell early in the day on the island’s North Shore and Koolau Mountains, and slickened the island’s southeast shores. Waves were expected to crest to 10 to 20 feet on the south shores of the islands and remain high through Sunday.
At Sandy Beach State Park, where President Obama enjoys bodysurfing when he visits Hawaii, people ignored the “no swimming” signs.
In Kau, a coffee-growing area of the Big Island, the weather forced officials to close Mamalahoa Highway — the only road connecting some communities to the eastern side of the island.
Nearly a foot of rain fell north of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and heavy rains also drenched the Puna district, which was hit hard by Tropical Storm Iselle in August. Still, 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 on the Big Island, 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, noting that he didn’t see any debris on a road to South Point — the southernmost spot in the U.S. — as he would expect after bad weather.
He said people weren’t as worried about the current storm as much as they were about Iselle.
“There was no sense of urgency about this one. That’s the way it played out,” he said.
Ana became a Category 1 hurricane Friday when it was about 230 miles south of Hilo, and 15-foot swells pounded the Big Island’s south shores.
Late Saturday night, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph and was moving at 8 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 night.
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.
“We don’t want anyone to let their guard down,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
McAvoy reported from Kailua-Kona. Associated Press writer Jennifer Kelleher and P. Solomon Banda contributed to this report from Honolulu.
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