Surf's up in Hawaii after hurricane Ana grazes islands

After several tense days of waiting to see if hurricane Ana would touch down on Hawaii, relieved residents are hitting the waves left in the storm's wake.

Hawaii residents watched, waited, and hoped for the best as a hurricane lost force but churned dangerously close early Sunday, threatening to batter several islands with wind and rain.

Hurricane Ana has been spinning on a parallel path southwest of the island chain for several days, and officials have opened emergency shelters and cancelled flights in precautions that come against the backdrop of a threat that hasn't materialized.

As Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell warned those on Oahu not to let their guard down, people at Waikiki Beach jumped into the ocean to surf big waves generated as Ana passed.

"Every time we have a hurricane," said 23-year-old, island resident Emile Meder, "we know it's going to be good."

West of Oahu, on the smaller island of Kauai – where hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes in 1992 – the threat was considered more serious.

"Those of us that were here during that time remember, and so we are very cautious," Mary Daubert, a county spokeswoman, said Saturday. "Until she's passed us, we all have to remain vigilant."

The center of hurricane Ana was about 120 miles south of Kauai and 125 miles southwest of Honolulu early Sunday, the National Weather Service said. The hurricane packed sustained winds of 80 mph, but the storm has lost some momentum, moving along at just 6 mph, compared with 14 mph earlier.

Three emergency shelters were opened on Kauai as the National Weather Service issued a tropical storm warning for the island and said the eye was coming closer than first predicted. A tropical storm watch remained in effect on Oahu but has been lifted for Maui, Lanai and the Big Island.

Meanwhile, the weather service issued a hurricane watch for parts of the remote northwestern Hawaiian islands, saying hurricane conditions are possible sometime late Monday around the island of Nihoa in a largely uninhabited marine sanctuary.

Since the tempest grew to hurricane force Friday, the center has remained more than 100 miles from land.

The result has been high surf, occasional heavy rains and strong winds, but no reports of significant damage.

The American Red Cross has closed evacuation shelters on the Big Island, but those on Oahu remain open.

Island Air suspended its Maui and Lanai flights Saturday afternoon and all flights Sunday, but airports remained open.

No hurricane has landed a direct hit on Hawaii since Iniki, a Category 4 storm that struck in September 1992, killing six people and causing damage estimated at $2.4 billion. Hurricanes range in severity from Category 1 to catastrophic Category 5.

Ana was bringing bands of heavy rain, dangerous surf and gusts to most areas, with scattered power outages reported. A flash flood warning was in effect for the entire state until 6 p.m. local time Sunday, the National Weather Service said.

McAvoy reported from Kailua-Kona. Associated Press writer Jennifer Kelleher and P. Solomon Banda contributed to this report from Honolulu.

This report contains additional material from Reuters.

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