“The hurricane watch for the island of Hawai`i has been cancelled.” That was the welcome announcement from Mayor Harry Kim that many Big Island residents woke up to this morning. Kim took to the airwaves to announce that the Central Pacific Hurricane Center had downgraded Hurricane Jimena to a tropical storm as of 5am, with Jimena located 170 miles south of Hilo moving west at 17 miles per hour with maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour. Tropical Storm Jimena is expected to continue moving west with little change in strength and pass 50 to 75 miles south of the island sometime today. Although Jimena is moving away from the island, Kim says the storm's impact will linger for awhile.
“Heavy rains are expected to continue over the day in the districts of Ka`u, Puna, Hilo, Hamakua and Windward Kohala,” Kim said. “The Kona and Leeward Kohala districts are not expected to be affected by surf or rain conditions at this time.”
The Kona and Leeward Kohala districts are the only areas not covered by an island wide flash flood watch. Police and public works officials report heavy rains primarily in Hilo and Puna with some localized flooding and debris. But currently, all highways are open. A high surf advisory is also posted for al east and southeast facing shores. Storm surges are expected in the Puna and Ka`u districts. Roads leading into Pohoiki and Isaac Hale Park have flooded and have been closed.
The impact of Tropical Storm Jimena has given visitors a view of Hawai`i that their travel agents hadn’t told them about. Claudia Rohr owns a local bed and breakfast:
“We were getting 15 foot waves and often times that means surges from the ocean which cover the roads,” Rohr said. “We have a lot of coconut trees at our house, so we’re expecting flying coconut fronds.”
Rohr, like many others, was breathing a sigh of relief this morning, thankful the weakened storm was passing to the south of the island. Despite the near miss, Big Islanders took the potential threat seriously. An assistant manager at the Hilo Wal-mart store said there was a run on a lot of the items that are typically in demand during an emergency:
“We are pretty wiped out on a lot of consumable items like toilet paper, water, propane gas, flashlights, batteries.”
Meanwhile, the Big Island chapter of the American Red Cross activated its hurricane watch team Sunday as volunteers stayed up all night preparing to open evacuation shelters and provide emergency services, which ultimately weren’t needed. Officials closed down operations at mid-morning after aerial observations revealed no obvious structural or flash flood damage.
Click here to see a larger satellite image of Tropical Storm Jimena.
(Copyright 2003 67AM KPUA / New West Broadcasting Corp. All Rights Reserved)