Iselle hits Big Island of Hawaii, causes power outages

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Hurricane Iselle hit the Big Island bringing rain, high winds and high surf.

Hurricane Iselle was downgraded to tropical storm as it hits Hawaii's Big Island. More than 10,000 customers lost power on the Big Island Thursday evening.

Hurricane Julio has grown to a Category 3 hurricane, which is likely to downgrade into a strong tropical storm as it passes Hawaii's northern islands over the weekend.

"What ended up happening is the storm has resurged just enough to keep its hurricane strength," Mike Cantin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said.

Cantin said that means stronger winds of 60 to 70 mph, though rainfall estimates of 5 inches to 8 inches in a short time frame remained unchanged.

"Not a major hurricane, but definitely enough to blow things around," he said.

Cantin said the Big Island's size and terrain would help break up the hurricane, making it only a tropical storm as it passes Maui and Oahu late Thursday and early Friday.

"The volcanoes on the Big Island will do a number on the system," he said.

People on the Big Island of Hawaii boarded up their homes ahead of the hurricanes bearing down on the state. For days, residents and vacationers have been stocking up on supplies. The biggest threat expected is flooding. Many schools and government offices are already closed ahead of the storms, along with many tourist attractions. And the Red Cross is providing people a safe place to stay.

"We have been maintaining our message to the community, encouraging preparation in anticipation to the surf, the wind, the rain, and that those is prone areas and vulnerable areas to take appropriate actions," Darryl Oliveira with Hawaii County Civil Defense said.

ABC7 News Meteorologist Sandhya Patel is in Oahu and sent us pictures of the beautiful weather she's had, up until today. She says people there are pretty worried.

This photo was taken by ABC7 News meteorologist Sandhya Patel in Oahu of the beautiful weather before the hurricanes hit the islands.

"There are a lot of people, locals, who have been panicking with the approach of Hurricane Iselle, and have started to buy so much water that the stores have started to run out of water completely. And now the actual bottling company that sell the water just to the stores is now opening up their stock to customers," Patel said.

She also says she saw lots of people packing their bags and trying to leave the island a day or two early.

Travelers scramble for flights before hurricane

The storm is also having an impact on summer travelers in the Bay Area. Two of the 13 flights scheduled to leave San Francisco International Airport Thursday for Hawaii have been cancelled. More cancellations are expected as the storms bear down.

"I was fortunate, felt fortunate to get out in time," Craig Emmons said.

Passengers at SFO who flew in on a red-eye flight from Kona say the weather was already starting to change when they left.

"The winds definitely picked up," traveler Eugene Mendola said. "And the waves, the swells started to come."

Storm preps were well underway, with people stocking up on food, water, and gas, leaving store shelves bare.

"We went into Target and this is the first time I've ever seen this -- water, panels and panels of water, were just completely gone," Walnut Creek resident Michael Jewett said.

Jewett made it home, but his mom and sister didn't. He said flights are booked and they're stuck. "We figured it would be easier to get one two people back instead of three people back, so I took the Los Angeles connection and I got lucky and got on," he said.

While these travelers are happy to be home, others are flying out, refusing to let the storms ruin their vacations.

"I'm surprisingly not that worried, but I think it might interfere with going to the beach and stuff," traveler Elyse Marzano said.

Fellow traveler Sunshine Loomis added, "I think it's going to be an experience, to be on an island when two hurricanes are hitting at the same time."

Michael Finney covers 1992 Hawaii hurricane devastation

After the hurricanes hit, people will need help cleaning up. 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney has first-hand knowledge of what's to come.

Hurricane Iniki hit 22 years ago and Finney was in Hawaii covering that hurricane for ABC7 News. There were six deaths, nearly $2 billion in damage and vacationers forced into emergency shelters for days. Kauai was completely shut off from the outside world.

On Sept. 13, 1992, Finney reported on the amount of debris that washed up on shore. There was a sign at the beach that stood three-feet tall, but after the hurricane it was buried around sand.

Boulders were thrown through hotel room walls by wind and water. Clean water was in short supply, phones were out and food was scarce. It was the most destructive hurricane in recorded history to hit Hawaii.

Iselle to give Hawaii first hurricane in 22 years

Iselle was supposed to weaken as it slowly trudged west across the Pacific. It didn't and now Hawaii is poised to take its first direct hurricane hit in two decades.

State officials are assuring the islands are ready and people should prepare but not panic.

Hawaii has been directly hit by hurricanes only three times since 1950, though the region has had 147 tropical cyclones over that time. The last time Hawaii was hit with a tropical storm or hurricane was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes in Kauai.

7 On Your Side: Rules regarding vacation cancellations

Major airlines are waiving change fees for flights to Hawaii on Thursday and Friday. However, there are restrictions and some airlines are tighter than others. For example, Hawaiian Airlines will waive the change fee, but you must use the ticket by Aug. 12. That's when the storms are expected to pass. United and Delta Airlines will let you use the ticket for a year. However, you may have to pay a higher fare if you fly after Aug. 12.

Hawaiian hotels are giving guests a break too. The Hawaiian Tourism Authority says most hotels won't charge a fee for canceling a reservation this weekend. Hotels also are offering so-called "distress rates." Those are discounts for guests who get stranded because of the storms. Hotels also are ready with extra food and water, power generators and additional staff.

When traveling to tropical locations this time of year, you really should consider buying travel insurance. Most policies cover hurricanes, but you need to read the fine print.

You must buy the insurance before the hurricane is named, otherwise the policy will not pay. You want a policy that says you are covered if a hurricane is "threatening" your destination, not just destroying it. If there is a mandatory evacuation, most policies will pay, but if you wait till the evacuation is called off, then you will get nothing.

Hawaii governor signs emergency proclamation

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, meanwhile, signed an emergency proclamation allowing officials to tap into a disaster fund set aside by the state Legislature.

"The sole purpose is to see to it the health and safety of the people of Hawaii is first and foremost," Abercrombie said at a news conference surrounded by his cabinet members.

Some are voting early in primary elections that close Saturday. The elections include several marquee races, including congressional and gubernatorial races. Abercrombie, who is running for re-election in a tight Democratic primary, said the election is expected to move forward as planned as of Wednesday afternoon.

Also, education officials said public schools on the Big Island, Maui, Molokai and Lanai will be closed Thursday.

The storms are rare but not unexpected in years with a developing El Nino, a change in ocean temperature that affects weather around the world.

Ahead of this year's hurricane season, weather officials warned that the wide swath of the Pacific Ocean that includes Hawaii could see four to seven tropical cyclones this year.

Sunnyvale-based Liquid Robotics has a wave glider in the waters off Big Island. @Holoholo_WG is returning pics of large waves on Twitter.

ABC7 News reporter Elissa Harrington, Tiffany Wilson, ABC News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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