Torrential rain and howling winds lash Hawaii as Hurricane Lane nears

HONOLULU (Reuters) – Hurricane Lane spun slowly through the Pacific toward Hawaii on Friday, losing power as it weakened to a Category 2 storm but still triggered raging surf, torrential rain and catastrophic flooding on the Big Island.

It is forecast to pass to the west of the islands over the weekend, with hurricane conditions expected over Maui and Oahu starting Friday night, the National Weather Service said. Further north, a tropical storm warning was in effect for Kauai.

“If you’re in Hawaii, it’s critical that you heed the warnings of local officials and stay aware of your surroundings,” Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long wrote on Twitter.

More than 2 feet (60 cm) of rain had already fallen on a couple of areas on the windward side of the Big Island, the weather service said, and peak gusts of up to 67 miles (108 km) per hour were recorded.

There were no reports of injuries on the Hawaiian Islands, but flash floods and landslides closed some roads.

Hawaii Governor David Ige said it was a very dangerous situation and urged people to avoid unnecessary travel.

While Lane was downgraded on Friday to Category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, it still packed maximum sustained winds of 110 mph (175 kph), the service said. A Category 5 is the strongest hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

As of 5 a.m. Hawaii time (11 a.m. EDT/1500 GMT), Lane was moving north at 5 mph (7 kph) and was about 180 miles (290 km) south of state capital Honolulu, the weather service said. It was forecast to turn west on Saturday, lose some of its punch and move more quickly.

Evacuations were underway on parts of Molokai and Maui islands, and some social media users reported power outages.

Incoming waves tower over bystanders in Kona, Hawaii, U.S. August 23, 2018 in this still image from video obtained from social media. Ryan Leinback/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES MANDATORY CREDIT.

A fast-growing wildfire on Maui forced the evacuation of local residents and others who had sought safety at a storm shelter in Lahaina, officials said. The cause of the blaze, which jumped a highway and was approaching a gas station, was not immediately known.

‘TAKE THE STORM SERIOUSLY’

The latest predictions from the weather service’s National Hurricane Center showed the eye of the storm glancing past Maui and several other islands later on Friday on its way to Oahu, the U.S. state’s most populous island.

“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 Honolulu.

In addition to “life-threatening and damaging surf,” the weather service has warned that storm surges could raise water levels 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters) above normal along the western shores of the Big Island and that extreme rainfall could mean numerous evacuations and rescues.

Governor 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.

The Coast Guard had ordered all harbors to close to incoming vessels and the Navy moved most of its fleet out of Pearl Harbor, where ships could provide aid after the storm.

Oil company Par Pacific Holdings Inc said it had shut its 93,500 barrel-per-day refinery in Kapolei.

In the event of outages, Hawaii’s power company, Hawaiian Electric Co, will largely be in charge of restoring power, FEMA’s Long told reporters, adding that the company is well prepared to fix any problems to the energy grid.

The federal government will be responsible for getting equipment and teams from the continental United States to locations where they are needed, he said.

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“We need to set the expectations that the power could go off for quite some time, and the infrastructure’s going to be heavily impacted,” said Lane.

Reporting by Jolyn Rosa; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Makini Brice in Washington, Alex Dobzinskis in Los Angeles and Gabriella Borter in New York; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Alistair Bell and Rosalba O’Brien

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