HONOLULU — Hawaii residents scrambled for water and ramen noodles in stores on Wednesday as Hurricane Lane bore down on the U.S. islands and authorities urged people to prepare for “life threatening” floods and landslides.
Though the hurricane weakened slightly as it spun across the Pacific Ocean, it remained a powerful Category 4 storm, the second-strongest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of wind intensity, according to the U.S. Central Pacific Hurricane Center.
Dangerous, hurricane-force winds were expected to hit the Big Island overnight and slam Maui Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service (NWS) said. To the north, Oahu and Kauai remained on “hurricane watch,” meaning they could face such conditions starting Friday morning.
“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the center said. “Life threatening impacts are likely in some areas as the hurricane makes its closest approach.”
The shelves of a downtown Honolulu Walmart were stripped of items ranging from canned tuna to dog food. Shoppers jostled with one another to get the last boxes of ramen noodles, according to a Reuters witness.
“There’s nothing in there,” said one shopper leaving the store.
City residents used carts to push cases of bottled water and coolers full of ice, after warnings of possible power outages and evacuations.
Cars waited in long lines at gasoline stations in Honolulu and people could be seen pulling small boats from the water ahead of Lane’s expected storm surge.
“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.
“People were buying cases of tiny water bottles.”
Packing 155-mile-per-hour (250-kph) winds, the storm could dump as much as 20 inches (50 cm) of rain over parts of the archipelago, triggering major flash flooding and landslides, the NWS said.
“The president is deeply concerned for the well-being of all Hawaiians and has directed FEMA and administration officials to remain in close coordination with the state,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters.
U.S. Navy ships and submarines based in Hawaii were instructed to leave port, a common practice as a hurricane approaches to avoid damage.
Hawaii Governor David Ige issued an emergency proclamation ahead of the storm - which frees up state resources to be devoted to respond and recover - and said state offices and public and charter schools would be closed until further notice.
“I urge our residents and visitors to take this threat seriously and prepare for a significant impact,” the governor said in the proclamation.
The most powerful storm on record to hit Hawaii was Hurricane Iniki, a Category 4 storm that 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.
(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Tom Brown and Sandra Maler)