Tuesday, July 30, 2013 | 12:20 a.m.
HONOLULU — Weather officials downgraded a tropical storm moving through Hawaii to a tropical depression on Monday night, but weaker winds and rainfall still knocked out power for about 6,500 people on Maui and the Big Island.
The National Weather Service canceled all storm warnings for Tropical Storm Flossie in Hawaii on Monday evening, keeping a flash flood watch in effect statewide until Tuesday night.
The service later issued a flash flood warning for Maui, where live television footage showed thunder and lightning, fast-moving clouds and plenty of rain and wind.
"It's just coming very, very quick and fast," Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa said in a live interview on KITV-TV. "The entire island is going to get inundated very quickly."
Rain was falling at rates of 4 inches per hour, and the service recommended people in low-lying areas move to higher ground right away.
Weather officials said a downgraded Flossie may still cause power outages and road closures, with wind gusts up to 40 mph through mountain passes.
The downgrade came before Flossie hit Oahu, the most populous island in the chain. With Flossie still a few hours away, emergency officials dealt with a high number of accidents — including six within an hour on one road connecting the eastern side of the island with the main part of Honolulu.
Darren Pai, spokesman for Hawaiian Electric Company, said about 4,500 people were without power on the Big Island on Monday night as the utility responded to multiple outages that started in the late morning. Another roughly 2,000 people lost power in Kihei, Maui, but were restored. Other outages were reported in Hana and Piiholo before being restored, Pai said.
Forecasters expect up to 6 inches of rain on parts of the Big Island and up to 2 inches of rain elsewhere. They say that could cause life-threatening mudslides and flash floods.
Flossie faded through the morning thanks to winds that broke layers of the storm apart, said Tom Evans, acting director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center.
Warnings about the storm didn't stop some tourists from heading to popular beaches, despite urgings from state officials to cancel all beach trips until further notice. In Waikiki, beaches were unusually sparse as those outside contended with overcast skies and rain ahead of Flossie's arrival.
Kelly Tarkington, a college student from Savannah, Ga., got a sunburn from spending eight hours on the beach Sunday but had to take refuge from the rain under a beach umbrella Monday along with her aunt.
"We just came to enjoy the beach — attempt to at least — and now it's pouring rain so we're under our umbrella. It's awful," said Tarkington, 21.
But she said the weather was mild compared with back home, so her experience won't stop her from returning to Hawaii.
If it keeps raining, she said, she'll do more shopping.
As of 5 p.m. local time Monday, the center of Flossie was about 90 miles east of Honolulu, traveling west at 18 mph.
Residents and government officials spent the weekend preparing for the storm's arrival. College campuses and courts were closed Monday on the Big Island, and the Red Cross was gathering volunteers to staff 24 shelters statewide.
The U.S. Coast Guard closed three ports — two on the Big Island where the storm was expected first, and a third port on Maui. Airports statewide were open Monday but many flights were being canceled.
Trails and campgrounds also were closed on the Big Island, where state officials warned people to avoid forest areas until Flossie clears.
Officials warned people to finish necessary storm preparations early and leave their homes if asked.
"I woke up to blue skies. It was just a beautiful day out," Ian Shortridge, 22, of Kealakekua, on the west side of the Big Island, said Monday. "It hasn't rained all morning. We are waiting for the rain."
Shortridge said he saw McDonald's employees boarding up windows Sunday. Store shelves were running low of essentials like bottled water and toilet paper, he said.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed an emergency proclamation that allows the state to use the National Guard, along with its disaster fund to pay for staff overtime, supplies and other resources.
Melanie and Ian Jenkins of Portsmouth, England, tried to catch some sun lying on Waikiki Beach but were close to giving up as raindrops fell on the sand.
"The showers are getting colder and colder each time, and I might give up in the next half hour," Melanie Jenkins said.
"It's still warmer than England," her husband said.