From hurricane to tropical storm, Lane covered the state

HONOLULU — Hurricane Lane weakened to a tropical storm on Friday as it headed toward the Hawaiian Islands. But it still brought torrential rains that immersed a city in waist-deep water and forced people to flee flooding homes, while others jumped off seawalls with boogie boards into the turbulent ocean.

As many dealt with flooding and even brush fires, swimmers and surfers ignored warnings from authorities and plunged into powerful waves at Oahu’s famed Waikiki Beach, which was closed.

Emergency officials said repeatedly over loudspeakers: “Please get out of the water! It’s very dangerous!” Honolulu’s mayor pleaded with tourists that they were putting themselves in danger as the storm churned closer.

The National Weather Service downgraded the storm to a tropical storm with winds of up to 70 mph as it headed north toward the islands. It was expected to veer west, skirting the islands, but still threatened to bring heavy rains and strong, gusty winds statewide, meteorologist Gavin Shigesato said.

A hurricane watch for Oahu and Maui was downgraded to a tropical storm watch. Still, meteorologists warned that Lane could trigger flash flooding and inflict wind damage.

The outer bands of the hurricane dumped as much as 3 feet of rain in 48 hours on the mostly rural Big Island. The main town of Hilo, population 43,000, was flooded Friday with waist-high water as landslides shut down roads.

Margaret Collins, 69, woke up Thursday night to the sound of moving water in her Hilo backyard.

“So I got up out of bed and looked out my bedroom window and saw water 3 feet high gushing past my window,” she said. “And that’s when I realized I was standing in water.”

She called a neighbor for help, who crawled through bushes to bring her out of the house, half-carrying her as she clutched a plastic bag with medication.

The gushing water knocked down a cement wall and lifted her truck out of the carport, sending it toward her neighbor’s house, she said.

“My house is completely inundated with mudwater,” said Collins, who was told the damage wouldn’t be covered by insurance. She hopes she can get federal assistance.

Elsewhere on the Big Island, the National Guard and firefighters rescued six people and a dog from a flooded home, while five California tourists were rescued from another house.

A different type of evacuation took place on Oahu — the state’s most populated island.

Officials with the Department of Land and Natural Resources transferred about 2,000 rare Hawaiian snails from a mountain marsh to offices in downtown Honolulu. A staffer will spend the night and place ice around their cages in case the air conditioning goes out.

Some of the snails are the last of their kind, including one named George that’s the sole remaining Achatinella apexfulva in captivity. Staff members are trying to keep him safe in case he’s able to reproduce.

In Waikiki, the man-made Ala Wai Canal is likely to flood if predicted rains arrive, said Ray Alexander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The canal marks the northern boundary of the Waikiki tourist district. Worries that it could overflow in heavy rains have prompted plans to mitigate the risk.

Employees have filled sandbags to protect oceanfront hotels from surging surf. Stores along Waikiki’s glitzy Kalakaua Avenue stacked sandbags along the bottom of their glass windows to prepare for flash flooding, while residents lined up at stores to stockpile supplies.

Almost 16,000 homes and businesses on the islands lost power, but service was restored to some, Hawaiian Electric spokesman Peter Rosegg said.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said about 2,000 people were in shelters, mostly in Oahu.

The central Pacific gets fewer hurricanes than other regions, with about only four or five named storms a year. Hawaii rarely gets hit. The last major storm to hit was Iniki in 1992. Others have come close in recent years

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