Heavy rains pound Hawaii as residents brace for major hurricane

24 August 2018 - 15:53
A chicken hops through floodwaters in Hilo, Hawaii on Thursday, August 23, 2018, in this still image from video obtained from social media.
A chicken hops through floodwaters in Hilo, Hawaii on Thursday, August 23, 2018, in this still image from video obtained from social media.
Image: Kehau Comilla/via REUTERS

Torrential rains pummelled Hawaii on Friday as Hurricane Lane closed in on the island state, triggering land slides and "catastrophic flooding," US weather authorities said.

In its 12pm GMT bulletin, the Honolulu-based branch of the National Weather Service (NWS) said the now Category 3 hurricane was packing winds more than 195km/h.

Currently located about 320km south of the state capital Honolulu, Hurricane Lane's centre was forecast to track over or "dangerously close" to parts of the main Hawaiian islands later Friday into the night.

The archipelago's Big Island was meanwhile deluged with "catastrophic flooding," the NWS said. Over 0.6m of rain have already fallen at several locations on the windward side of the Big Island, the National Hurricane Center said, with 76cm to 102cm possible over some areas throughout the state.

Emergency teams have set up 16 evacuation centers, with a further 19 due to open later as President Donald Trump, who has declared a state of emergency, urged Hawaiians to hunker down and prepare for the worst.

"Our teams are closely co-ordinating with the state and local authorities. You are in our thoughts!" Trump tweeted.

'Panic mode' 

Residents across the state stocked up on water, food, gasoline and emergency supplies as Lane drew nearer.

"Last couple of days it's been like this - it's been busy," said Chris, an employee at a gas station in Haleiwa, on the north shore of Oahu island - the location of the capital Honolulu.

"We have been just constantly getting cars filling up. Everybody is in a panic mode right now - everyone is filling up gas, gas cans, propane cans and all that."

Sea levels were expected to rise as much as two to four feet above normal tide levels, causing coastal erosion and prompting a storm surge and "large and destructive waves," forecasters said.

Surfers could be seen taking advantage of the calm before the storm to get out on their boards one last time before the ocean got too violent.

Flights cancelled 

United Airlines said it cancelled all Friday flights to and from Kahului airport on Maui, the second-largest island.

The US Coast Guard said 57,000 US military personnel already stationed in Hawaii were ready to provide logistical and medical support or conduct search and rescue missions operations.

"Hurricane Lane is not a well-behaved hurricane," Governor David Ige said in a statement as he declared a state of emergency on Tuesday on the Big Island. "I've not seen such dramatic changes in the forecast track as I've seen with this storm."

Hurricanes rarely make landfall in Hawaii and the last major storm to strike the state was nearly three decades ago, when Hurricane Iniki barreled into the island of Kauai, leaving six dead and causing billions of dollars in damage.

Federal officials have been working with Hawaiian utility managers to keep a close eye on the power grid, a major vulnerability in Puerto Rico last year when it was hit by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm.

Hurricane-related deaths in Puerto Rico have been estimated at as many as 4,600 people, largely because prolonged and widespread power outages and washed out roads prevented access to health care, US researchers said.

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