Hawaii, has been lashed by high winds at torrential rain from Hurricane Lane which brought flash floods, landslides and raging surf as it spun toward the islands.
Schools & offices were closed as residents hunkered down to take shelter from the storm, which has been downgraded to category three strength.
As the hurricane neared the islands of the US state, it packed winds of 125mph. With the storm still spinning in the Pacific Ocean about 180 miles 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.
Despite the storm being downgraded, the National Weather Service said the situation remains “dangerous” and severe flooding is a “major concern”.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said at a press conference: “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.”
There were no immediate reports of injuries, but at least 14 roads had been closed because of flash floods and landslides.
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.
Governor David Ige described the flash floods as “life-threatening”, adding: “This is a very dangerous situation. Avoid unnecessary travel.”
Moving northwest at six miles per hour, the storm was downgraded by the National Weather Service on Thursday afternoon Hawaii time to a Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.
“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.
Then the storm will likely turn to the west on Saturday and Sunday and pick up speed, forecasters said.
Empty shelves and sand bags as storm nears
The National Hurricane Center warned that storm surges could raise water levels three to five 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.”
Residents have been urged 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 until at least the end of Friday.
Par Pacific Holdings Inc said it had shut its 93,500 barrel-per-day refinery in Kapolei due to the storm.
The shelves of a downtown Honolulu Walmart were stripped of items ranging from canned tuna to dog food, bottled water and ice.
Video footage showed whipping palm trees and darkening skies in Maui where 1,900 customers were without power.
Flash flooding has already been occurring in parts of Hawaii, especially the Big Island. Rainfall of 5-10” with isolated higher totals have already been observed. Much more rain on the way as #Hurricane #Lane edges closer to the islands. #HIwx pic.twitter.com/BnuA0nHZGi
— Tyler Sebree (@TylerABC57) August 23, 2018
In the Manoa Valley neighborhood in Honolulu, pavements typically full of joggers and dog walkers, were empty as residents stood outside their homes watching the skies and businesses closed early for the day.
On the island of Oahu, shelters were opened, but Tom Travis, Hawaii emergency management agency administrator, said that there was not enough shelter space for all the state’s residents, and advised people who were not in flood zones to stay at home.
Shelters are not designed to withstand winds greater than about 40 mph and for most people should be a last resort.
“Whenever possible, the public should plan to shelter in place or stay with family or friends in homes outside of these hazard areas that were designed, built or renovated to withstand anticipated conditions,” said in a statement.
Donald Trump declares state of emergency
US 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.
The Coast Guard has ordered all harbors to close to incoming vessels and the US Navy moved most of its fleet out of Pearl Harbor, 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 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 percent of the problems,” he said.>