HONOLULU (Reuters) – Hurricane Lane churned toward Hawaii on Thursday, dumping torrential rain on the Big Island and threatening storm surges and dangerous waves, as schools, government offices and businesses closed and residents stocked up on supplies.
Packing sustained winds of up to 130 miles per hour (215 km per hour), Lane could dump 10 to 20 inches (25-50 cm) of rain, triggering flash floods and landslides, the National Weather Service (NWS) said. More than 30 inches could fall in some places, it said.
“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the NWS Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu said in an advisory.
As of early Thursday, Lane was centered about 205 miles (330 km) south-southwest of Kailua-Kona, a town on the west coast of the Big Island, the NWS said. Moving northwest at 7 mph (11 kph), it was classified as a powerful Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength.
The NWS said excessive rainfall would affect the Hawaiian Islands into the weekend, “leading to significant and life-threatening flash flooding and landslides.”
More than a foot of rain has already fallen on part of the Big Island, the NWS said on Thursday.
The center also warned of “very large and damaging surf” along exposed west- and south-facing shorelines, likely leading to significant coastal erosion.
A hurricane warning was in effect for Oahu, Maui County and Hawaii County. The islands of Kauai and Niihau remained on hurricane watch and could face similar conditions starting Friday morning.
Governor David Ige has urged residents to take the threat seriously and prepare for the worst by setting aside a 14-day supply of water, food and medicines.
All public schools, University of Hawaii campuses and nonessential government offices on the islands of Oahu and Kauai will be closed for at least two days starting on Thursday, Ige said Wednesday.
The shelves of a downtown Honolulu Walmart were stripped of items ranging from canned tuna to dog food as well as bottled water and coolers full of ice after warnings of possible power outages.
“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.
Long lines of cars formed at gasoline stations in Honolulu and people pulled small boats from the water ahead of the expected storm surge. U.S. Navy ships and submarines based in Hawaii were instructed to leave port, a common practice when a hurricane approaches to avoid damage.
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.
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 on Thursday.
One key change is making sure that generators are in place so they can immediately provide power to residents and quickly restart the water system, Long told a briefing in Washington.
“It’s not just providing food and water. If you fix the power first you solve 90 percent of the problems,” Long said, adding that FEMA was focused on food and shelter, health and medical, power and fuel, communications, transport, and hazardous waste.
“We’re reorganizing the fire power of the federal government under these critical life lines and we’re pushing forward,” he said.
The most powerful hurricane on record to hit Hawaii was Category 4 Iniki, which made landfall on Kauai island on Sept. 11, 1992, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It killed six people and damaged or destroyed more than 14,000 homes.
Reporting by Jolyn Rosa; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Lisa Shumaker