HILO, Hawaii (AP) — Tourists in Hawaii who had been planning an escape to a sunny island paradise were instead hit with the threat of back-to-back hurricanes, but they're making the best of their vacations.
Julie Harrison said she was a little nervous the hurricanes would ruin her trip to the Big Island but she decided to come regardless.
"It's enough of an experience that I just wanted to come out anyway and make it out no matter what," said Harrison during a stop to see the bubbling crater at Kilauea volcano's summit.
"I've only been here since yesterday and already it's amazing, being able to see the volcanoes and beaches," said Harrison, who lives near Buffalo, New York.
Two other relatives — one in her 60s and another in her 90s — who were going to come with her delayed their trip by about a week because of the storms.
"That discouraged them more than someone who was younger," said Harrison's sister-in-law, Heather Bilardo, who lives on the Big Island.
The islands of Oahu, Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe were under a hurricane watch Friday as Hurricane Lester surged closer to the islands. Hurricane Madeline threatened the Big Island earlier in the week but was downgraded to a tropical storm and passed without causing major damage.
Lester weakened to a Category 2 but was expected to remain a hurricane as it passes north of the islands Saturday and Sunday, said meteorologist Bob Burke of the National Weather Service. Large waves from 15 to 25 feet are expected to pound east-facing shores of major islands, he said.
Oahu's 205 campsites remained open as Lester approached, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell told reporters Friday.
"We want to allow people to continue to plan to camp, but we want to ask those campers to pay attention...be ready," Caldwell said. "It's going to be a wet weekend."
Caldwell said that officials are not expecting a major impact from Hurricane Lester, but they're preparing for the worst just in case.
Honolulu Emergency Management Department Director Mark Rigg warned visitors to stay off wet sand and ocean ledges.
"If you're not an experienced ocean person, I would advise staying out of the water completely," Rigg said.
The popular snorkeling spot Hanauma Bay is staying open for now, and officials plan to assess Saturday morning whether to open emergency shelters, Caldwell said.
The storm's center isn't expected to make landfall. But if the storm veers to the south it could have a much greater impact, said Ian Morrison, meteorologist from the National Weather Service.
"Our island is small enough that an event of this size could impact all areas," said Maui County Emergency Management Officer Anna Foust. "We are a little concerned that people will not take this one seriously... This one looks like it's going to actually give us some significant impacts."
Schools, courts and government offices on Maui were set to close at noon Friday.
Harry Pomerleau, who manages 40 vacation rental properties in the lower Puna area of the Big Island, doubts the storms will affect tourism.
"The cleanup on these are fairly mild, so I don't see why they would stay away," Pomerleau said.
In some cases, a mild storm can even have a positive effect. In the Kapoho area of Puna, where homes are built among tide pools, large swells from storms flush out the pools and leaves cleaner water behind, Pomerleau said.
With one storm barreling toward the island state after another, some Hawaii residents said they're developing a special skill at preparing for storms, in a cycle of boarding up windows and then taking the protections down, again and again.
"We went through this last year, we had three coming at us, and this year again," said Virginia Branco, interim manager of the Mokupapapa Discovery Center in Hilo. "I think we're getting used to the pace of it."