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President makes whirlwind stopover in Hawaii

(Image: AP) (Image: AP)
(Image: AP) (Image: AP)
(Image: Dan Scavino/Twitter) (Image: Dan Scavino/Twitter)
(Image: Pool) (Image: Pool)
(Image: Pool) (Image: Pool)
WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Before embarking on a high-stakes trip to Asia, the president and first lady spent a whirlwind day in Hawaii on Friday, meeting with PACOM leaders and the governor, greeting military families, and laying a wreath during a somber visit to the USS Arizona Memorial.

President Trump and the first lady spent the night in Waikiki, and boarded Air Force One about 7:20 a.m. Saturday to head to Japan.

The visit — coinciding with the afternoon rush hour — spurred a protest at the state Capitol building, caused significant gridlock throughout the urban core, and severely limited access to the state's no. 1 tourist destination thanks to road closures and heightened security.

But all that didn't seem to matter to the president's supporters, members of the military and their families gathered on the tarmac who cheered and applauded when President Trump and the first lady walked down the stairs of Air Force One at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam about 1:10 p.m.

After Trump was greeted by Gov. David Ige, U.S Pacific Command Adm. Harry Harris, and other dignitaries, Waialua Elementary fourth grader Mikayla Webb got the honor of presenting the first couple with lei — a maile lei for the president and a pikake lei for the first lady.

Ige sat down with the president later in the day, along with other governors in the Pacific, to talk about tensions with North Korea.

When Trump got off the plane, though, Ige kept his greeting brief.

"I just welcomed him to Hawaii," he said. "I hope he has a chance to meet the people, place and culture of Hawaii."

Trump shook hands and posed for photos with members of the military and their families before departing for Camp Smith to meet with PACOM leaders. There, he told the press that he was excited about his upcoming trip to the USS Arizona Memorial.

"I tell you, this is very special being in Hawaii," the president said.

He added he's "read about, spoken about, heard about, studied, but I haven't seen" Pearl Harbor.

Every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has visited the Arizona Memorial. 

And Trump appeared moved during his visit to the site, which honors the sailors and Marines who died in the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor. At the memorial, the president and first lady offered a wreath of white flowers, bowed their heads during a moment of silence, and then dropped petals into the water.

On Twitter after the Pearl Harbor visit, the president posted a video of his Hawaii stop and said, "Remember #PearlHarbor. Remember the @USSArizona! A day I’ll never forget."

Gridlock across the urban core

The Trump visit was announced weeks ago, and officials have spent the last few days not only preparing for his stay — but preparing residents for its ramifications. Even so, many were caught off guard when freeway closures happened earlier than announced and major arteries through the urban core were also shut down, bringing traffic to a standstill.

Even before Trump landed, police started closing off freeways in anticipation of the president's travel.

And the closures continued through the afternoon.

About 2 p.m., eastbound lanes of the H-1 Freeway were shut down so the president could head into Waikiki. Also closed were a number of main arteries: King and Beretania streets, Kapiolani and Ala Moana boulevards, and Kalakaua Avenue. 

The closures continued until about 2:50 p.m., when police started to reopen Moanalua Freeway eastbound in Halawa.

Urban thoroughfares and the H-1 Freeway westbound were closed about 4:30 p.m. as the president's motorcade headed to the USS Arizona Memorial for a wreath-laying ceremony. Trump returned to Waikiki about 7 p.m., and spent the night there before embarking on a tour of Asia on Saturday morning.

Waikiki welcomes a president

Well before the president landed on Oahu, traffic into and out of Waikiki was crawling.

The city closed Kuhio Avenue near the president's hotel, along with two lanes of Kalakaua Avenue. Authorities were also restricting pedestrian traffic and parking near the Ritz-Carlton Residences.

Visitors had mixed reactions to the president's presence in Waikiki.

"It's a little bit of a hassle," said New Zealand visitor Jill Tan. "There were so many police cars we didn't know what was happening."

But Washington state visitor Deanna Freeland supports the president and hoped to see him.

"It's fabulous that he's going to Asia to try to negotiate," she said. "I think he's looking for world peace. I don't think he is trying to start wars."


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Meanwhile, Waikiki residents said the security protocols, road closures and parking restrictions were daunting — but manageable.

"Some of the people will just have to make other arrangements," resident Dean Smith said.

Added resident Bryan Clark: "Just stay out of Waikiki or ride your bike."

Waikiki resident Tracy Frost said she's lucky — she drives a moped. "However, I do know a lot of people working wise that are going to have some struggles. But we'll get through it just like we get through everything else," she said.

The visit also prompted special fight flight restrictions extending over the island, and the U.S. Coast Guard maintained security zones on the water near Keehi Lagoon extending two miles toward Waikiki. 

'Only one day'

Smith said it would have been easier if President Trump stayed on a military base, but he doesn't blame him for opting for Waikiki.

"This is only one day," he said. "It's not going to be a whole week. I think it's going to be an exciting event."

Protesters, meanwhile, were vocal on their distaste of Trump's visit.

About 200 people attended an anti-Trump rally at the state Capitol building, while a handful of protesters also held signs in Waikiki.

"I'm really upset that Trump is on our island. We don't like his brand of racism here and we want him to leave as soon as possible," protester Kanani Ai said. "I've stayed out of politics my whole life and it's not about Republican or Democrat. It's about human rights." 

Earlier in the week, the city and state sought to prepare residents for the visit — and urged those who could to stay off the roads.

"We are going to see major traffic delays in Waikiki and along H-1 on Friday and perhaps Saturday," Mayor Kirk Caldwell said, at news briefing. "We're asking residents and visitors, to some extent, to avoid these areas if possible."

Added Ed Sniffen, deputy director for the state Transportation Department: "Leave early. If you don't have to be at work that day, please don't be there."

The city's 10,000 workers were given the OK to take Friday as a vacation day, if they chose. State offices were also warning workers about the expected traffic nightmare, and encouraging them to take a vacation day and stay home.

Busy agenda for Asia tour

After leaving Oahu on Saturday, Trump will kick off a tour through Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The Asia tour comes amid escalating tensions with North Korea, but trade and economic stability are also set to be major talking points on the trip. 

Previous presidential visits to Hawaii have created major traffic disruptions. Among the most recent: When President Obama visited Oahu in August 2016 for the World Conservation Congress. 

For that visit, the city warned drivers to prepare for serious traffic congestion during the afternoon rush hour, and many left work early to avoid the gridlock.

While this is Trump's first Hawaii visit as president, it's not the first time he's come to Hawaii.

In May 1998, he attended the Miss Universe pageant at the Stan Sheriff Center. He was acknowledged during the event, which he co-owned at the time.

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