HONOLULU Residents and tourists in Hawaii are bracing for two major storms swirling toward the island chain. Hurricane Iselle is expected to hit the Big Island on Thursday evening, canceling flights and shaking up the final days of campaigns before the state's primary election. Hurricane Julio is following in the Pacific, having strengthened into a Category 2 storm but forecast to pass just north of the islands sometime Sunday morning.
Officials say Hawaii's primary election will be held Saturday as planned. But candidates in heated races are suspending campaign activities, including a Democratic rally.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, both in the final days of tight races, asked supporters to take down campaign signs so they don't become dangerous projectiles. Kathryn Xian, who's running for Congress, suspended campaign activities and her volunteers focused on driving homeless people to shelters.
"My campaign hat is off," Abercrombie said in a press conference Thursday. "I'm engaged in the job I got hired to do, and I feel very confident not only that we're ready, but that we can carry through."
Airports remained open Thursday, but the Department of Transportation encouraged travelers to check with airlines. Nearly 30 flights from several airlines, including Delta, United, Air China and WestJet, were canceled Thursday, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said.
American Airlines and US Airways announced they canceled flights in and out of the Big Island and Maui Thursday evening through noon Friday. Hawaiian Airlines canceled some interisland flights for Thursday evening and moved its Maui-Los Angeles flight up by nearly five hours.
Travelers were urged to stay in hotels instead of heading to the airport, unless their flight was imminent.
"It's very, very important that people understand that our airport is not set up to handle large crowds," Ford Fuchigami, interim director of the Hawaii's Department of Transportation, said in a press conference.
Most public bus services on Oahu and Maui would be shut down Friday, but some express buses would run in the morning, officials said. On Oahu, evacuation buses would start running late Thursday.
The U.S. Coast Guard shut down ports on the Big Island, Maui and Oahu, arranging for barges and ships to leave the ports and seek sheltered waters.
"I am committed to reopening each port as soon as it is safe to do so," Capt. Shannon Gilreath said in a statement.
An estimated 204,000 visitors are scattered across the Hawaiian islands on any given day, and hotel and tourism officials are delivering emergency information in multiple languages, said Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the tourism authority.
Tourists in popular Waikiki Beach on Oahu lounged on beach chairs Thursday morning and surfed on the azure waves while the tropical sun shone.
"We did decide to come out here and make the most of it before we had to be back inside because of the storm," said Helen Povazan, retired IT manager visiting from Melbourne, Australia.
On Hawaii's Big Island, residents in the quaint town of Pahoa were glad they stocked up on bottled water earlier in the week because most stores had run out.
"Lucky thing I bought four cases Monday," said Tarty Taurus at the Kaleo's Bar and Grill, as restaurant staff served customers and tied down everything they could.
Residents of rural Hana on Maui are hoping Hana Highway isn't washed out and have been buying up plywood, said Wiloris Perry-Estocado of Hasagawa General Store.
"There's a lot of old homes in Hana - we're all as prepared as can be," Perry-Estocado said. "If the wind comes, a lot of our roofs are going to go."
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