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Hawaii storms: Iselle downgraded, hurricane Julio approaching (+video)

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(Read caption) Tropical Storm Iselle has made landfall, continuing to dump inches of rain on the Big Island. As Matt Sampson explains, this makes the island more susceptible to rock and mudslides and flash floods.
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The first of two major storms expected to hit Hawaii thrashed the Big Island with gales and violent surfs Thursday evening and Friday morning.

The storm Iselle was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Thursday night, but up to 60-mile-per-hour winds and pelting rain downed trees and cut the power to more than 20,000 residents.

More than 1,200 residents of the Big Island sought shelter at local high schools. No deaths or injuries have been reported, and the extent of damage has so far been limited to downed trees and roof damage, said John Drummond, Hawaii County Civil Defense spokesman, on Friday.

“Seems like everyone listened and hunkered down and we’ve been able to withstand the main effects of the storm,” Lt. Col. Charles Anthony of the Hawaii National Guard told the Los Angeles Times.

The storm could have been much worse, but the system weakened considerably when it collided with the Big Island's mountains, National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Lau told KITV 4 viewers Friday morning. 

Officials have cautioned residents throughout the archipelago that the outer bands of Iselle still hold potential for flooding. Heavy rain is expected to continue throughout Friday on the Big Island. The entire state is still under a tropical storm warning, but forecasters do not expect Iselle to make direct landfall on any of the other islands. 

Local news crews reported gusting winds, scattered rains, and sporadic power outages Friday morning on the island of Oahu. Roughly 3,000 residents of Maui lost power overnight, but officials have been able to restore electricity to all but 200 residents, Hawaii News Now reports. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has advised residents venturing outside to be on alert for downed power lines.

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A second storm on the heels of Iselle, hurricane Julio, is expected to pass just north of the Big Island by late Monday. National Hurricane Center forecasters upgraded Julio to a Category 3 storm late Thursday, but they expect the storm to weaken through Saturday.

Such a one-two punch of tropical storms is practically unheard of for Hawaii, a state that rarely experiences hurricanes.

In addition to the historic storms, Hawaiians have had to contend with ground tremors and a toxic spill. A 4.5-magnitude earthquake shook the Big Island Thursday afternoon, causing little damage but rattling harried residents rushing to prepare for the coming storms. And an uncontrolled release of hydrogen sulfide at a geothermal plant Thursday evening prompted Hawaii County Civil Defense officials to request that some 700 residents stay indoors. Officials lifted that advisory about 10:15 p.m. local time.

Area schools and some federal offices on the Big Island are closed today. The airports remain open, but some 50 airlines have canceled flights. Officials hope to go forward with primary elections scheduled for Saturday.

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