HONOLULU (Reuters) – High winds and torrential rains from Hurricane Lane pounded Hawaii on Thursday, touching off flash floods, landslides and heavy surf as it spun toward the islands, prompting schools and offices to close as residents hunkered down to ride out the storm.
With Lane still churning in the Pacific Ocean some 200 miles (322 km) south-southeast of Kailua-Kona, more than a foot (30 cm) of rain had already fallen on the eastern side of the Big Island, said Kelly Wooten, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii County Civil Defense agency.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, but at least 14 roads had been closed due to flash floods and landslides, she said.
Moving northwest at 7 miles per hour (11 km per hour), it was classified as a powerful Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, packing sustained winds of 130 mph (209 kph).
The latest predictions showed the eye of the storm carving just west of the islands on Friday before turning back out to sea, but forecasters warned that the island could still expect to be hit hard by the erratic hurricane.
“Regardless of the exact track, life-threatening impacts are likely over many areas as this strong hurricane makes its closest approach,” the weather service said.
The center also warned of “very large and damaging surf” along exposed west- and south-facing shorelines.
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, 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 gas 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.
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 and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Lisa Shumaker