Hawaii rattled by quake as hurricanes near
JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER AND AUDREY MCAVOY
Iselle was supposed to weaken as it slowly trudged west across the Pacific. It didn't - and now Hawaii is poised to take its first direct hurricane hit in 22 years. Tracking close behind it was Hurricane Julio, which strengthened early Thursday (local time) into a Category 2 storm.
State officials are assuring the islands are ready and people should prepare but not panic.
Meanwhile, US Geological Survey reports a magnitude-4.5 earthquake has rattled Hawaii's Big Island, as two hurricanes rumbled toward the islands.
The quake struck on the north tip of the Big Island, about 11 kilometres from Waimea at 6.24am local time (4.24am NZ time).
The US Geological Survey initially announced the quake was magnitude-4.3 and quickly upgraded it.
Hawaii County Civil Defence Director Darryl Oliveira says there haven't been any reports of damage. He said a moderate quake is "not uncommon" for Hawaii.
An employee of a grocery store in Waimea, a town of about 7000, said the quake did not cause any apparent damage in the building and did not knock anything off shelves.
Hurricane Iselle was expected to arrive on the Big Island on Thursday evening, bringing heavy rains, winds gusting up to 135 kph and flooding in some areas. Weather officials changed their outlook on the system on Wednesday after seeing it get a little stronger, giving it enough oomph to stay a hurricane as it reaches landfall.
"What ended up happening is the storm has resurged just enough to keep its hurricane strength," said Mike Cantin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Cantin said that means stronger winds of up to 110 kph, though rainfall estimates of up to 20 centimetres in a short time frame remained unchanged.
"Not a major hurricane, but definitely enough to blow things around," he said.
Iselle loomed about 645 kilometres east of Hilo early Thursday, with sustained winds of 135 kph and traveling about 30 kph.
Cantin said the Big Island's size and terrain would help break up the hurricane, weakening it into a tropical storm as it passes Maui and Oahu late Thursday and early Friday (local times).
"The volcanoes on the Big Island will do a number on the system," he said.
Hurricane Julio, meanwhile, swirled closely behind with maximum winds whipping at 160 kph. The National Hurricane Center said it expected the storm to strengthen even more before gradually weakening by Thursday night. That weakening is expected to continue into the weekend.
Hawaii has been directly hit by hurricanes only three times since 1950, though the region has had 147 tropical cyclones over that time. The last time Hawaii was hit with a tropical storm or hurricane was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1400 homes in Kauai, said meteorologist Eric Lau.
The two hurricanes have disrupted tourism, prompted flash flood warnings and led to school closures. Governor Neil Abercrombie, meanwhile, signed an emergency proclamation allowing officials to tap into a disaster fund set aside by the state Legislature.