HONOLULU: Fearful Hawaii residents stocked up on water and gasoline on Wednesday as Hurricane Lane bore down on the US islands with high winds, lashing rains and the potential to trigger “life threatening” flooding and landslides.
Though the hurricane weakened slightly as it spun across the Pacific Ocean it remained a powerful Category 4 storm, the second-strongest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of wind intensity, according to the US Central Pacific Hurricane Centre.
The Big Island and Maui were under a hurricane warning, with sustained winds upwards of 74mph (119kph) expected early on Thursday. To the north, Oahu and Kauai remained on hurricane watch, meaning they could face these conditions within the next 48 hours, the centre said.
“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the centre said. “Life threatening impacts are likely in some areas as the hurricane makes its closest approach.”
Cars waited in long lines outside gasoline stations in Honolulu and people could be seen pulling small boats from the water ahead of Lane’s expected pounding surf.
“I went to Safeway last night for regular groceries, everyone was in a panic,” said Thao Nguyen, 35, an employee at a Honolulu branch of Hawaiian shirt retailer Roberta Oaks. “People were buying cases of tiny water bottles.”
Lane was about 315 miles (505km) south of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, US forecasters said. It was expected to begin a turn toward the northwest of the island later on Wednesday, followed by a turn to the north-northwest on Thursday.
Packing 155-mile-per-hour (250-kph) winds, the storm could dump as much as 20 inches (50 cm) of rain over parts of the archipelago, triggering major flash flooding and landslides, according to the National Weather Service.
“The president is deeply concerned for the well-being of all Hawaiians and has directed FEMA and administration officials to remain in close coordination with the state of Hawaii,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters.
US Navy ships and submarines based in Hawaii were instructed to leave port, a common practice as a hurricane approaches to avoid potential damage.
Hawaii Governor David Ige issued an emergency proclamation ahead of the storm – which frees up state resources to be devoted to respond and recover from the storm – and said state offices and public and charter schools would be closed until further notice.
“I urge our residents and visitors to take this threat seriously and prepare for a significant impact,” the governor said in the proclamation.
The most powerful storm on record to hit Hawaii was Hurricane Iniki, a Category 4 storm that made landfall on Kauai island on September 11, 1992, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It killed six people and damaged or destroyed more than 14,000 homes.
Residents of the Big Island are already rattled by the three-month eruption of Kilauea volcano, which has forced thousands of residents from their homes and engulfed hundreds of structures in lava.