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Oct 20, 8:19 PM EDT

Hawaii rides out storm, but remote islands at risk


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HONOLULU (AP) -- Sunny skies returned to the Aloha State, the day after a hurricane left Hawaii without inflicting much harm beyond heavy rain.

Hurricane Ana was downgraded to a tropical storm late Sunday afternoon as it moved west of the chain.

While the main Hawaiian islands rode out the storm with no reports of any serious problems, the National Weather Service said Tropical Strom Ana has set her sights on small, remote islands that make up what's known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

A hurricane watch remained in effect Monday for portions of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world, located about 1,200 miles from Honolulu.

"Most people forget about the storm after it passes the inhabited islands," said Randall Kosaki, the monument's deputy superintendent.

Ana is forecast to turn back into a hurricane Wednesday and could cause damage and erosion at the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, said John Bravender, a meteorologist for the weather service.

A hurricane strike could pulverize coral and wipe out sandbars where green sea turtles nest and where Hawaiian monk seals tend to newborn pups, Kosaki said.

Much of the coral destroyed when the French Frigate Shoals took a direct hit from Hurricane Neki in 2009 have grown back, he said, showing how coral can rebound after storms when protected from human impacts.

"It would be tragic if the hurricane just bulldozed it again and turned it all back into rubble," Kosaki said.

There currently aren't any of the people who do conservation work there at various times of the year, officials said.

Workers earlier moved some Nihoa Miller birds from Nihoa island to Laysan island as a precaution, Kosaki said, adding that there are some plants and animals on Nihoa that aren't found anywhere else in the world.

The closest Ana got to the main Hawaiian islands was about 70 miles southwest of Niihau, a privately owned island where less than 100 people live.

Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said the islands of Kauai and Niihau fared well. "Mahalo to our people of Kauai and Niihau for getting our families ready but we've got to stay prepared."

Hawaii residents are told to remain prepared because hurricane season isn't over until the end of November.

"We tend to have a longer hurricane season when ocean temperatures are higher than normal," Bravender said.

The storm comes as higher-than-normal ocean temperatures have caused coral bleaching in the main and northwestern islands. "That's kind of a double whammy for coral reefs," Kosaki said.

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Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .

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