Over the 72-hour period ending at 5 a.m. today, Punaluu saw 22.84 inches of rain. Kahuku was not far behind at 12.26.

The city declared a state of emergency today for Windward Oahu because of severe flooding from heavy rain over the past three days.

Gov. Linda Lingle issued an emergency proclamation covering the period from Feb. 20, through today to help residents and businesses recover from flooding and mudslides.

The National Weather Service forecast improving weather as the storm system socking Oahu and Kauai with heavy rain the past three days is moving slowly to the west.

"Tradewinds are, in fact, trying to return," said lead forecaster Tim Craig. 'It's a slow process and once they become more established, later today or tonight, we should be entirely out of the woods."

Oahu was under a flash-flood warning this morning with rains continuing to soak the Koolau Mountains and Windward Coast, from Punaluu to Waimanalo.

Oahu, Kauai and Niihau were also under a flash-flood watch, in effect through this afternoon.

Heavy rain overnight forced the closure of Kamehameha Highway in Waikane and Punaluu. The highway was reopened at about 8:20 a.m.

Police also closed the Kailua-bound lanes of the Pali Highway at about 4:20 a.m. because of a waterfall that was dumping debris and rocks onto the highway outside the second tunnel.

Kapaa Quarry Road was also closed because of flooding.

Craig said there are "subtle hints" that the storm has peaked and "we're on the improving side."

Typical tradewind weather is predicted tomorrow with partly cloudy skies, possible showers over windward and mauka sections and 10 to 15 mph winds.

While the storm is passing, however, the returning sun could lead to what is called "afternoon convection" because the atmosphere is still moist, Craig said.

If the sun pokes through the clouds for any length of time, it will heat the land, which will heat the air above it and the air "will rise like a hot air balloon, " he said.

"It will cool and all that moisture will become clouds and heavy showers again. It's just a lot of moisture in the air."

Torrential rain from Waiahole to Kahuku flooded roadways and homes, closed schools and caused at least two landslides yesterday.

The storm stranded many Windward Oahu residents for hours in their cars and spurred others to wage a battle against Mother Nature to clean out storm drains and save their property.

Last night, officials were closely watching a Kaaawa home that was in danger of crumbling into a stream and blocking a nearby bridge, potentially sending floodwaters onto roadways and into other homes.

State Transportation Department spokesman Scott Ishikawa said an embankment behind the home on Huamalani Street was significantly eroded by rising, fast-moving water.

Over the course of yesterday, firefighters responded to reports of minor flooding at more than 32 homes, fire spokesman Kenison Tejada said. During the heaviest rainfall, fire engines were called in from Waikele and downtown Honolulu to help.

Fire officials said they responded to three water evacuations after midnight.

Starting as early as 7 a.m. yesterday, flooding closed roadways up and down the Windward Coast, while two mudslides at Kualoa Point and Kaaawa also snarled traffic.

Also, two city buses that were stranded for hours at Swanzy Beach Park were able to start traveling on the cleared highway, Oahu Civil Defense said. The buses had about 25 passengers on board.

"Who left the water running? Turn it off," quipped Kaaawa resident Hilary Rillamas yesterday as rain tap-danced on her large umbrella. "This is the worst I've seen it."

During a break in the heaviest rain, Rillamas, friend Karen Joanou and their children sloshed through ankle-deep water along Kamehameha Highway in Kaaawa looking for backed-up waterways to clear. They were not alone.

After securing their own homes, several groups of residents worked together to clear streams and other waterways up and down Kaaawa in hopes of guarding against more flooding. At Kaaawa Elementary School, James Kahele joined a few neighbors to cut vegetation and rusted chain-link fencing blocking a drainage culvert.

"We're clearing the debris so the water can just flow," Kahele said.

After they had finished, the water swept through the drainage canal and toward the ocean.

The weather service said the rain, which started Wednesday on the Windward Coast, was associated with a low-pressure trough several hundred miles off Oahu coupled with southeasterly winds.

Over the 72-hour period ending at 5 a.m. today, Punaluu saw 22.84 inches of rain. Kahuku was not far behind at 12.26.

With rain in the forecast today, state Education Department officials decided to close five schools on Windward Oahu, said spokesman Gregg Knudsen. Four public schools were closed yesterday because of the rains, and officials reported minor flooding at several of the campuses, including Kahuku High and Intermediate.

At Kaaawa Elementary School, fields of high grass were nearly submerged.

Rain also closed the Polynesian Cultural Center and Malaekahana State Park, where a foot of water was reported in the parking lot.

"This is crazy," said Michele Pouvave, a Kaaawa resident whose downstairs laundry room was under a foot of water. "All my clothing is floating around down there."

While it was still pouring outside, Craig Long struggled to free an exercise mat that had lodged in a culvert fronting his Kaaawa home. The mat was clogging the drain that led to the ocean across the highway, causing water to rise around his elevated home.

"The mattress got stuck," Long said as he watched it float out to sea in water the color of chocolate milk. "It's now on its way to California."

On Kauai the rain caused some minor flooding, rockslides and a treated-sewage spill at a popular small-boat harbor near Waimea. Waste-water officials said they released the waste water at the Waimea plant into the ocean after flooding overloaded the system.

Also on Kauai's leeward side, flooding and a minor rockslide caused lane closures of the main thoroughfares through the Kalaheo-Eleele area early yesterday morning. The problem spots were cleared by daybreak yesterday, said Kauai Civil Defense administrator Gregg Morishige.

The rain spurred the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to stop issuing camping permits for Kauai state parks, along with Malaekahana State Recreation Area and Kahana Valley State Park on Oahu, until the bad weather subsides.

"We advise the public to avoid trails or streams during the stormy conditions," said DLNR Chairman Peter Young.

This morning, a police helicopter was expected to fly over Windward Oahu and the North Shore to find any trouble spots that might have developed overnight.

The city's declaration, issued by Managing Director Wayne Hashiro, allows it to apply for federal disaster relief assistance. Hashiro is acting mayor because Mayor Mufi Hannemann is out of state.

Rain runoff also caused sewage spills, including an estimated 150,000-gallon overflow at the Kaneohe Wastewater Pre-Treatment Facility. Much smaller spills were reported at the Kailua Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Waimanalo treatment plant, and a few manholes in Kaneohe and Kailua.

Rain also forced the closure of Ala Wai and Pali golf courses today.

Lingle's proclamation activates programs to provide personal and commercial loans to people whose homes and businesses were damaged by the rain, according to a Department of Defense news release.

It also activates the state's Major Disaster Fund to speed relief and authorizes use of National Guard troops to help civilian authorities, if necessary, with disaster relief and removal of debris.

Teams from the Hawaii Chapter of the American Red Cross will work with State Civil Defense and the Oahu Civl Defense Agency to assess the flooding and mudslide damage.