HONOLULU: Hurricane Lane weakened to a Category 3 storm on Thursday but was already lashing Hawaii with high winds and torrential rains, touching off flash floods, landslides and raging surf as residents hunkered down to ride out the storm.
With the storm still spinning in the Pacific Ocean about 180 miles (290km) southeast of Kailua-Kona, more than a foot (30 cm) of rain had already fallen on the eastern side of the Big Island of Hawaii, said Kelly Wooten, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii County Civil Defense agency.
“Lane, while it’s been downgraded, is wide and very moist and it’s going to hang around for a while, because it’s moving slowly. That’s why we’re taking so much precaution here,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said at a Thursday afternoon press conference.
There were no reports of injuries, but at least 14 roads were closed because of flash floods and landslides in the Pacific island state. Tourists were advised to stay away from a popular attraction on the island of Maui called the Seven Sacred Pools, a scenic cluster of waterfalls and grottos.
Moving northwest at 6 miles per hour (10kph), the tempest was downgraded by the National Weather Service on Thursday afternoon Hawaii time to a Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, packing sustained winds of 125mph (200kph).
“Some (further) weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours but Lane is expected to remain a hurricane as it draws closer to the islands,” the weather service said in an advisory.
The latest predictions showed the eye of the storm twisting west of the Big Island on Friday morning before glancing past Maui and several other islands later in the day on its way to Oahu. But authorities warned that the islands could still expect to be hit hard.
“We’re telling everybody to take the storm seriously, make your final preparations, and be prepared to ride out what is going to be a prolonged rain event,” said Andrew Pereira, communications director for the city and county of the state capital, Honolulu.
The National Hurricane Centre warned that storm surges could raise water levels 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 metres) above normal along the western shores of the Big Island and that extreme rainfall could mean “numerous evacuations and rescues.”
Governor David Ige has urged residents to set aside a 14-day supply of water, food and medicine. All public schools, University of Hawaii campuses and nonessential government offices on the islands of Oahu and Kauai were closed at least through Friday.
Par Pacific Holdings Inc said it had shut its 93,500 barrel-per-day Kapolei, Hawaii, due to the storm.
In Hanalei on Kauai, light rain was falling Thursday afternoon as residents and businesses prepared for the hurricane while tourists continued to shop and dine in places that were still open. Dave Stewart, owner of Kayak Hanalei, had boarded up the windows on his shop by mid-afternoon and moved the company’s rental kayaks to high ground.
He said he wasn’t taking any chances, having lived through severe flooding on Kauai’s North Shore in April and through Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
“That was total destruction,” he said of Iniki. “Seven out of 10 telephone poles were down, so even if your house was OK, you couldn’t get out.”
Iniki was the most powerful hurricane on record to hit Hawaii, making landfall on Kauai island on September 11, 1992, as a Category 4. It killed six people and damaged or destroyed more than 14,000 homes.
The shelves of a downtown Honolulu Walmart were stripped of items ranging from canned tuna to dog food, bottled water and coolers full of ice.
President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for Hawaii and ordered federal authorities to help supplement state and local responses, the White House said on Thursday.
The Coast Guard has ordered all harbours to close to incoming vessels and the US Navy moved most of its fleet out of Pearl Harbour, where ships could provide aid after the storm.
Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has made changes to how it works, FEMA Administrator Brock Long said at a briefing in Washington, making sure generators are in place so they can immediately provide power to residents and quickly restart the water system.
“It’s not just providing food and water. If you fix the power first, you solve 90% of the problems,” he said.