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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Hurricane Jimena brushes by Big Island

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

Hurricane Jimena weakened into a tropical storm and continued westward past the southern tip of the Big Island yesterday, kicking up surf and dumping rain, but doing little damage.

Kimberly Segawa of Hilo looks with amazement at the raging waters of Wailuku River. The Hilo river swelled with heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Jimena. A flash flood watch remained in effect for parts of the Big Island.

Tim Wright photo

The weather system was downgraded to Tropical Storm Jimena at 5 a.m. yesterday, and about two hours later passed within about 120 miles of South Point, said Hans Rosendal, meteorologist and hurricane forecaster for the National Weather Service.

Police, fire and Big Island Civil Defense workers remained on alert yesterday as heavy rain fell at times in the Puna and Hilo areas, and a flash flood watch remained in effect last night for Hilo, Puna, Hamakua and Windward Kohala.

The storm had lost much of its strength by late afternoon yesterday, when it was 240 miles southwest of South Point and still moving away from the Big Island, with maximum sustained winds of about 50 mph.

The hurricane watch for the Big Island was canceled early yesterday, but a high surf advisory remained in effect for the east and southeast shores of all islands.

The heaviest rainfall was in Upper Puna, where 8.43 inches were recorded in Glenwood and 6.09 inches in Mountain View in the 24 hours ending at 2 p.m. yesterday. Pi'ihonua recorded 5.75 inches, while Waiakea Uka had 5.79 inches, Rosendal said.

In Hilo, the pounding rain and wind rattled the oceanfront windows at Country Club Condominiums with such strength at 2 a.m. that Kimberly Segawa and her roommate, Elena Nahooikaika Hoopii, wondered if the glass would shatter.

"It woke us up because the water was hitting the glass," Segawa said. When they opened the curtains to look outside, they saw white ocean spray whipping over the cars in the parking lot between the building and the ocean.

Hawai'i County lifeguard Mark Collins stands on what's left of Honoli'i Beach. High water from Honoli'i Stream pushed most of the beach's black sand out to sea after Tropical Storm Jimena dumped heavy rain on parts of the Big Island on Sunday evening and into early yesterday.

Tim Wright photo

In Lower Puna, the surf pounded with such force at the oceanfront subdivision of Kapoho Vacationland that Mark Lubahan could feel it shake his lanai on the opposite side of Wai Opae Street.

The sensation of a huge force thumping outside his house was even more gripping because it was completely dark on the coastline, and he could see nothing, he said. "It was getting louder, extremely loud," he said.

At about 7 a.m., he said, the surf surged across Wai Opae in two places and poured into the tide pool in his front yard. "I was looking at it, and I was going, this is kind of scary, should we go now?"

In the end, the tidal surge only dumped some debris in the yard and stripped away some loose rocks from his driveway, he said.

Officials with Hawai'i Electric Light Co. scrambled to repair downed power lines and remove tree branches tangled in lines, especially in Puna and Waimea.

Spokesman Jay Ignacio said the largest failure cut power to about 1,300 customers in the Volcano and Glenwood areas shortly before 3 a.m. yesterday. The problem was caused by a downed tree that struck a 34,000-volt transmission line, and power was restored in less than an hour, Ignacio said.

"We did have a few problems, but considering what we were up against, it was not that bad," he said.

He said crews worked throughout the day yesterday restoring power to about 375 customers in pockets around the island that lost electricity and had those problems repaired by about 5 p.m. HELCO sent extra crews home and returned to regular staffing levels last night, Ignacio said.

Brothers Chuck and Jim Hichak from Washington, D.C., visited Kapoho Beach, which had been closed by Jimena's approach.

Tim Wright photo

Although there were concerns about possible flooding in Ka'u, measurements at Kapapala Ranch in Ka'u showed 2.54 inches in the 24 hours ending 2 p.m. yesterday, considerably less than in Puna.

"So far we've been very fortunate," although it continued to rain at times during the day, with some heavy showers, said Clyde Silva, with the Red Cross in Pahala.

Some residents had wondered whether Jimena would strain some new bridges that were built north of Pahala to replace structures that washed out in a 2000 flood, but the storm did not present much of a test, Silva said.

"We were all just guessing here and just waiting to see if anything happened," he said. "But we didn't have enough rain to have the gulches flood to be able to monitor it."

Police and fire officials said there were no reports of damage or major flooding overnight, and despite the off-and-on rains during the day, things quickly got back to normal.

In Honoli'i, surfers turned out shortly after dawn to ride 6- to 12-foot sets as measured at their face, but the beach was closed about 8:30 a.m. because of the runoff surging down the Honoli'i River. The water from the river raised the possibility that surfers could be swept out to sea, lifeguards said.

Bob Hanley, 41, arrived too late, and found himself stuck on shore at the closed beach park. With his 7-foot surfboard under his arm, he watched the waves break and blend with the muddy fresh water gushing downstream.

"You could still surf this," he said, gamely. "Any time there are waves on a day off, you want to get out there."

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 935-3916.