This image provided by NOAA taken Thursday Aug. 7, 2014, at 2 a.m. ET shows Hurricane Iselle, left and Hurricane Julio. / AP
Rain, strong winds and high surf lashed at the eastern edge of Hawaii as the state braced for Iselle, a weakening hurricane, to make landfall Thursday night.
Iselle was on a beeline toward the Big Island, but its force dropped to barely hurricane strength. The National Weather Service said it could reach land as a weak hurricane or, if winds fall below 74 mph, a strong tropical storm.
"We're as ready as we can be,'' Gov. Neil Abercrombie said at the state's emergency operations center Thursday afternoon. "There's no glum faces here because everybody's ready.''
American Airlines and US Airways canceled all flights leaving or going to the Big Island and Maui after 6 p.m. local time Thursday. Airports remained open but flights were being curtailed as the state awaited a double punch from two hurricanes.
A second hurricane, Julio, was more than 1,000 miles away from the state but roughly following Iselle's course.
Initial rainfall was relatively light, but forecasters warned residents of the Big Island they could see four inches to eight inches of rain, with more possible in some locations, before Iselle has passed. Gusts of up to 85 mph were forecast for the Big Island at the storm's peak.
"We're still looking at winds 60-70-80 mph,'' Billy Kenoi, mayor of the island of Hawaii, told KHON-TV. "Right now, it's still category 1 (strength). The threat remains.''
Kenoi said that parts of the Big Island's shoreline were seeing waves of eight to 10 feet.
National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Brenchley, in Honolulu, said landfall was expected on the Big Island around 11 p.m. local time.
He said hurricane tracking planes flying through Iselle confirmed its winds remained at hurricane strength Thursday evening.
Hawaii hasn't been hit by a hurricane since 1992 when Iniki, a strong category 4 hurricane with winds of up to 140 mph, killed six people and did an estimated $1.8 billion damage.
Abercrombie, facing a re-election challenge in Saturday's statewide primary elections, said Hawaii is ready for both Iselle and Julio. The second and stronger storm, Julio, was packing winds of 105 mph.
He said the National Guard is standing by and state and local governments were closing offices, schools and transit services across the state. Emergency shelters were open statewide. Ports were closed across the state and cargo operations shut down. City bus service was halted in Honolulu and on Maui, though evacuation service was to begin Thursday evening on Oahu.
The eye of Hurricane Iselle was about 70 miles southeast of Hilo. It was moving at roughly 15 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
Hurricane Julio strengthened early Thursday into a Category 3 storm with sustained maximum winds of 115 mph. It was forecast to brush by north of the islands Sunday.
Nature provided a dramatic prelude: The U.S. Geological Survey reported a magnitude 4.5 earthquake rattled Hawaii's Big Island Thursday morning. There were no reports of damage.
"The worst of it will be tonight,'' Norman Hui, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Honolulu, said. "This storm is holding together pretty well."
Abercrombie, a Democrat, said Saturday's statewide primary elections, including contested races for governor and U.S. Senate, will go ahead. But campaign events were canceled.
"I can assure you, as governor, that all campaign hats are off," Abercrombie said.
The twin hurricanes disrupted tourism, brought flash flood warnings and prompted school closures. Abercrombie on Wednesday signed an emergency proclamation allowing officials to tap into a state disaster fund.
"Everyone is expecting the worst, but I don't think it will be all that bad, I have enough supplies for the wife and kids so we'll be fine,'' said Steven Gavranic, a tourist from Sydney, Australia, who was fishing in the sun at Waikiki.
The American Red Cross pleaded for the return of its only emergency truck on the Big Island. Hawaii chapter CEO Coralie Matayoshi says the white Ford F-150 truck bearing Red Cross markings was stolen in Hilo Wednesday night. The organization will have to borrow or rent a truck as Hurricane Iselle approaches the island.
The Big Island was expected to take the biggest hit. The state hasn't seen a direct hit by a hurricane since 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes.
Honolulu is on Oahu, a smaller but more populated island that should avoid the worst of the storm, forecaster Hui said.
Long lines formed at some local stores, and bottled water and other hunker-down items flew off shelves.
Roger Acpal, a manager at a Costco near downtown Honolulu, said sales are brisk "but we are able to keep up with demand so far.''
"We got slammed as soon as the announcement about the hurricane came out," Acpal said. "Water, canned goods, generators and camping stoves were what people were buying."
"In the past we've been lucky," said Cher Takemoto, a teacher at Moanalua High School in Honolulu. "We've had so many tsunami warnings where nothing happened. Maybe this time it's real. We're praying for the best."
Hui said it's possible the Big Island's mountainous volcanoes could provide some buffer. Still, the island's population of more than 180,000 people could be in for a wild ride, with violent winds, heavy rain and flooding.
Contributing: Mike Tsukamoto in Honolulu; Associated Press
Copyright 2014USA TODAY
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