Storm prompts Hawaii Island closures as Hurricane Lester looms

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Although Madeline was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Wednesday, Hawaii Island officials were playing it safe, closing schools across the destination and opening shelters as business owners and homeowners boarded up properties.

The island's most popular visitor draw, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, closed at noon Wednesday, planning to reassess the storm's impact at 8 a.m. Thursday. Park officials said the attraction could see up to 10 inches of rain, dangerously high surf, and winds reaching speeds of 75 mph, depending on Madeline's track.  

"The closure will continue until we have a chance to assess the impact to the park and mitigate any damage," chief ranger John Broward said in a statement. "With Hurricane Lester right on the heels of Madeline, and still a Category 4 hurricane, we could end up continuing the closure for a few days until it's safe to reopen."

At press time, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center had classified Lester as a category 3 hurricane, located about 900 miles east of Hilo with sustained winds of 120 mph. Forecasters anticipate Lester could begin impacting Hawaii's weather early Saturday but remain uncertain about the storm's exact course.

Hawaii County officials, meanwhile, closed all of the island's state parks, campgrounds, forest reserves and hiking trails Wednesday. And the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, located on the Big Island's west coast near Kona, closed that afternoon, relocating guests to other hotels on the island, elsewhere in Hawaii, and beyond.

"With the resort's proximity to the shoreline, our low-lying bungalow-style accommodations, and the path of the storm, we felt it in the best interest and safety of our guests and staff to initiate this precautionary closure, until the storm passes," Brad Packer, a Four Seasons spokesman, said in an email. "We anticipate reopening Friday Sept. 2 after a thorough inspection of the resort."

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