Hurricane Lane pummels Hawaii with floods and fire as thousands lose power

Breena Kerr in Maui
Smoke rises as a wildfire spreads in Kaanapali, Maui, Hawaii, in an image from social media video. Photograph: Social media/Reuters

In a rush of wind, rain, and even fire, Hurricane Lane battered the Hawaiian islands on Friday, hitting the Big Island and Maui the hardest and leaving thousands without power.

On the Big Island, torrential rains dumped 35in over 48 hours. The coastal town of Hilo saw flash floods that prompted many residents to fortify their doors with sandbags and stay at home. Situated less than an hour’s drive from the erupting Kilauea volcano, the town has suffered serious hits to its $2.4bn tourism industry as visitors cancel vacations and cruise ships reroute to other locations to avoid the eruptions.

On Maui, two brush fires broke out in the early hours of Friday morning in the tourist towns of Lahaina and Ka’anapali, consuming 300 acres along the sun-parched hillsides before continuing down toward the ocean. The fire was a terrifying scene for the tourists waiting out the hurricane in the island’s most populated stretch of hotels, and the residents of more than 100 homes that were evacuated.

“This is one of the worst fires we’ve ever had in the Lahaina area,” Maui’s mayor, Alan Arakawa, said on Friday.

Meanwhile, residents on Maui’s north-west side were pelted with wind and rain and hit with power outages, while those on the south western “dry side” were battered by winds. With most beach parks, stores, restaurants and other businesses closed, there was little for tourists and residents to do but wait inside until the slow-moving hurricane made its way past the island.

By late Friday morning the weather had created headaches for those heading to Maui’s main airport Kahului, due to the closure of the highway to and from the tourist town of Lahaina.

“We are in Lahaina in Maui and it’s impossible to go to the airport … because there is a huge fire. Please help us,” a French tourist tweeted to Delta Airlines on Friday morning. Hours later, the tourist reported that they had finally made it to the airport and were waiting to see if they could get a flight off the island.

After an earlier power outage on Thursday, Kahului remained open despite some cancellations. Most other airports throughout the islands remained open as well, although officials said that Maui’s smaller Kapalua airport (along with some beach hotels) was open but also being used to shelter evacuees from Friday morning’s fire, according to the state department of transportation.

The storm left many with temporary power outages. As of Friday afternoon, at least 6,000 residences on Maui had suffered power outages, along with 2,500 on the island of Molokai and 2,500 on Oahu, according to Hawaiian Electric Company and Maui Electric Company.

But for some local residents the rare hurricane wasn’t all bad news. Ocean safety officers who were part of a coastal rescue unit said people were taking the opportunity to surf. “They want to take advantage of the surf when there’s no one around,” they said. “They’re usually OK, but they do it at their own risk now, because all of the beach parks are officially closed.”

On Friday night, Lane was downgraded to a tropical storm by the US Central Pacific Hurricane Center.