HONOLULU (Reuters) - Hawaii braced for a one-two punch from a pair of major storms barrelling toward the archipelago on Thursday, with Hurricane Iselle leading the way bringing high winds and heavy surf as Hurricane Julio gathered steam behind it, U.S. officials said.
Wind shook palm trees on Hawaii's Big Island and caused white caps to form off the coast as Iselle approached on Thursday afternoon rated a Category 1 hurricane, even with the eye of the storm still about 150 miles (241 km) east of the town of Hilo.
The storm, with maximum winds of 80 miles per hour (129 kph), was due to make landfall on Thursday night before passing south of the state's smaller islands on Friday.
As residents and tourists alike braced for Iselle, Hurricane Julio was gaining momentum further east, and was expected to pass near Hawaii by late Saturday or early Sunday, said Ray Tanabe, acting director of the National Weather Service in the Pacific region.
The rare threat of back-to-back hurricanes sent Hawaii residents scrambling to stock up on supplies as state officials warned of the potential for flash floods, mudslides and power outages in the normally calm tourist haven.
Governor Neil Abercrombie signed an emergency proclamation, freeing up funds and resources in anticipation of the storms, and authorities advised residents to prepare seven-day disaster supply kits and cautioned them against driving except in an emergency.
“Everybody knows that a real rough time is coming," Abercrombie told a news conference.
Iselle was expected to strike the Big Island as a hurricane or tropical storm between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. local time, bringing waves of up to 25 feet (8 meters), said meteorologist Chris Brenchley of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center.
Hawaii's schools would be closed on Friday, but authorities planned to keep airports open so planes could land in an emergency, even as some airlines cancelled flights, officials said.
Officials continued to prepare for Hawaii's primary election, scheduled for Saturday, but said they could reassess how to proceed on Friday after Iselle hits.
"If things are really, really bad when we make the assessment on Friday, we will consider postponing elections for whatever part of the state is adversely affected by the storm," said Rex Quidilla, spokesman for the state Office of Elections.
In Honolulu, where the sun was shining on Thursday morning, resident Don Riseborough said he was taking the weather in stride.
"Talk about the calm before the storm. It's a gorgeous day here, bright sunshine, nice trade winds, a beach day. The furniture is off the lanai, and I'm about to eat everything in the refrigerator in case the power goes out.”
But on the Big Island, a downpour soaked customers who dashed from cars to the Sunshine True Value Hardware store in Kapaau, only to discover shelves already picked clean of batteries, flashlights, duct tape and plywood. But sales clerk Caryl Lindamood tried to spread a cheerful outlook.
"Mother Nature sure does like to stir things up for us, doesn’t she?" she said, joking about both the incoming storms and a light 4.5 magnitude earthquake that struck the Big Island 12 miles (19 km) west of Waimea on Thursday morning.
Robert Trickey, 56, an interior decorator, said he was worried about plate-glass windows that form several walls at his house near Pahoa on the Big Island, while Kailua-Kona resident Lisa Hummel, 44, said her family was filling water containers and had amassed batteries, candles and flashlights and planned to shelter in their basement when the hurricane arrives.
"We'll probably make a pot of chilli and ride it out," she said.
Meanwhile, Markus Schale, general manager of Hotel Wailea on Maui, said his staff was removing all outdoor furniture from patios and around the swimming pool.
"We're delivering food and drinks to people's rooms before the storm, a sort of picnic service in the afternoon so they can stay in their rooms safely tonight," he said.
(Additional reporting by Ken Wills and Karin Stanton on the Kohala coast of the Big Island, and Gunna Dickson in New York; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Sandra Maler and Ken Wills)