HONOLULU – Hawaii residents were furiously stocking up on essentials as two hurricanes churned toward the islands Wednesday and weather officials asked the whole state to prepare for flash flooding.
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Julio gathered enough steam in the Pacific to be upgraded to hurricane status as it trailed Hurricane Iselle, which could hit as early as Thursday.
Much of Hawaii was under either a tropical storm watch or warning.
Hurricane Iselle weakened slightly overnight. Its eye was about 925 miles from Honolulu Wednesday morning.
Hurricane Julio is expected to strengthen slowly over the next day and a half or so. Hurricane-force winds extend up to 15 miles from Julio's eye.
Julio was spinning about 1,650 miles east of Hilo, with winds of about 75 mph, making it a Category 1 hurricane, said Lixion Avlia, senior hurricane forecaster with National Hurricane Center in Miami. It has not intensified in the last few hours, he said.
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It is expected to pass north of the Hawaiian islands in three to four days. However, Avlia said it was still too far away to predict its actual path.
"Hawaii should be more interested now in Hurricane Iselle, which is closer to the Hawaiian Islands," he said.
Hawaiian Airlines will waive reservation change fees and fare differences for passengers who need to alter travel plans because of the storms. The airline said fees will be waived for those who are ticketed to travel on Thursday and Friday. They will be allowed to change reservations for flights through Aug. 12.
Hawaii has been directly hit by hurricanes only three times since 1950, though the region has had 147 tropical cyclones over that time. The last time Hawaii was hit with a tropical storm or hurricane was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes in Kauai, Lau said.
"We've been lucky so far. So we just need to really take this threat seriously and make sure everybody is prepared," he said.
When a pallet full of bottled water ran out at a Honolulu warehouse store Tuesday, shoppers loading up on supplies hovered around until a worker refilled it. Then, it quickly emptied again.
"Days like today, in a situation like this, we just throw open the doors and hold on for the ride," said Scott Ankrom, assistant general manager of the Costco. The busy store near downtown has had to continually restock water and sold as much of it on Monday as it sold all last week, he said.
Judy Castillo of Oahu said she wanted to make sure her family was prepared before big crowds flooded stores and shelves emptied. "Two storms in a row? It's like, hello," she said, pushing a cart with two cases of water and other items from a drug store to her car.
A grocery store in the coastal Oahu community of Waianae opened 15 minutes early Tuesday because people were already lined up to buy supplies. Bottled water and cans of Spam and Vienna Sausage flew off the shelves, said Charlie Gustafson, general manager of Tamura's Supermarket.
Chris Pruett of Waikiki was anticipating the silver lining that comes from bad weather: good waves.
"We're just getting water and preparing ourselves, too, because it could be bad," he said. "Of course we're not looking for a storm ... but it tends to generate good waves."
The second storm system heightened the urgency to prepare, Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said Tuesday. His county, also known as the Big Island, was expected to see Iselle first.
The clustered storms are rare but not unexpected in years with a developing El Nino, a change in ocean temperature that affects weather around the world.
In the Atlantic Ocean, Tropical Storm Bertha continues to weaken as it moves north, posing no direct threat to the U.S. East Coast. The storm's maximum sustained winds decreased to near 50 mph Tuesday evening with even more weakening expected over the next two days.
On Sunday, the storm buffeted parts of the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos with rain and gusty winds, after passing over the Dominican Republic. Earlier, it dumped rain on Puerto Rico.
Ahead of this year's hurricane season, weather officials warned that the wide swath of the Pacific Ocean that includes Hawaii could see four to seven tropical cyclones this year.
Before Hurricane Iniki hit Hawaii in 1992, the last hurricane slammed the islands in 1982.
"The central Pacific doesn't see nearly the activity that the Atlantic sees," said James Franklin, chief of hurricane specialists for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
In preparation, some people in Hawaii are making sure to vote early in the primary elections, which are Saturday. The elections include several marquee races, including primaries for U.S. Senate, governor and a U.S. House seat covering urban Honolulu.
Associated Press Writers Doug Esser in Seattle and Oskar Garcia in Honolulu contributed to this report.