Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

Insight Many Oahu visitors were back on the beach in Waikiki early Friday evening last week, returning to the Aloha State’s most popular shoreline only a matter of hours after Tropical Storm Iselle first made landfall on the Big Island of Hawaii’s southeastern coast.

Although the southern Oahu sky was overcast, obscuring the destination’s typically first-rate sunset vistas, many folks seemed to be enjoying themselves in or near the warm water of the Pacific on an otherwise gorgeous Hawaii evening.

There was a little grumbling, though, about the canceled fireworks show, a weekly Waikiki spectacle that normally takes place Friday nights about 7:30 in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

“They’re canceling everything today,” a woman visiting from Indiana complained.ShaneNelson

A range of major Oahu attractions, including the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, the Polynesian Cultural Center and large shopping malls like Honolulu’s Ala Moana Center, were all closed earlier Friday.

Around 3 p.m., however, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell gave an official all-clear announcement, noting that Iselle had broken up quite a bit after its impact with Hawaii’s largest island and its two nearly 14,000-foot shield volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

“We can start returning back to our normal lives on this island,” Caldwell said during the press conference. “The good news is we dodged a bullet. We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. We got more of the best.”

Many weren’t so lucky on the Big Island, where more than 33,000 customers were without power at one point, according state officials, and wind speeds of up to 90 mph were recorded on Mauna Kea.

Iselle, the first tropical storm to make landfall in Hawaii in two decades, dumped up to 15 inches of rain on parts of the Big Island and toppled many large trees, damaging homes and structures south of Hilo in the Puna district, where as many as 8,000 customers were still without power on Sunday and roads remained blocked with storm debris.

Guests staying at the 140-room Hilo Seaside Hotel and nearby 144-room Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel were evacuated prior to Iselle’s arrival Thursday, according to state officials, and many spent the night in local emergency shelters in Hilo.

Meanwhile, at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, north of Kona on the Big Island’s western coast, guests stayed put.

“We’re going to keep all of the guests in our hotel,” the property’s hotel manager, Phyllis Branco, told me over the phone Thursday morning. “We’re not planning on evacuating. Our building was built to code, and the best place for them is right here with us.”

According to Branco, Iselle’s impact on the Big Island’s western Kohala coast was much gentler than the pummeling dealt to the destination’s east side.

“We had very little wind in the early evening, a little drizzling of rain and never lost power,” she said Friday afternoon. “The eye passed over slightly after midnight after our guests were already tucked into bed. This morning dawned and was absolutely beautiful. They resumed their vacations as if there was never an interruption.”  

On the other hand, many Hawaii visitors were certainly inconvenienced as a result of the numerous flights canceled across the state and Pacific on Thursday and Friday. Several airlines waived change fees for travelers, though, and a number of hotels accommodated stranded guests at reduced rates.

“We’ll extend rates at a friends-and-relative rate, so nobody gets hurt very badly from all of this,” Barry Wallace, executive vice president of hospitality services for Outrigger Enterprises Group, said on Thursday.

All of Hawaii’s residents and visitors received good news over the weekend as Hurricane Julio, which trailed not far behind Iselle across the central Pacific earlier in the week, weakened on a track forecast to pass substantially north of all the Islands beginning early Sunday afternoon.

Iniki, which devastated Kauai in 1992, was the last hurricane to strike the Hawaiian Islands.
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