HONOLULU (Reuters) - Hurricane Lane strengthened to a Category 5 storm on Tuesday as it charged toward Hawaii where residents braced for “life threatening” winds and flooding, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
Forecasters said it was still uncertain whether the eye of the powerful hurricane would hit land in the U.S. island chain, whose Big Island is reeling from a three-month eruption of Kilauea volcano.
But “preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the center said.
The center of the storm is expected to track “dangerously” close to or over the islands Thursday through Saturday, the NHC said.
A direct hit anywhere in Hawaii “would be a worst case scenario,” said Thomas Birchard, a meteorologist with the hurricane center.
The powerful hurricane was about 350 miles (565 km) south-southeast of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, with maximum sustained winds of 160 miles per hour (260 km/h) at about 11:30 p.m. local time, the NHC said.
As of late Tuesday night, a hurricane warning was in effect for the Big Island and a hurricane watch was in effect for the rest of the state, the hurricane center said.
The storm, which was moving west-northwest near 9 mph (15 km/h), was expected to turn toward the northwest on Wednesday, followed by a turn to the north-northwest on Thursday, the center said.
Winds and rain from the storm are expected to hit the Big Island, then churn north over the islands of Maui, Lanai and Moloka’i, which were all under hurricane and flash flood watches.
Rainfall of 20 inches (51 cm) in some areas could lead to major flash flooding, landslides and mudslides, the NHC said.
Devastation caused by winds and flooding may make locations uninhabitable for weeks and Hawaii residents to be prepared to evacuate their homes, local authorities warned.
Reporting by Andrew Hay and Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Sandra Maler and Andrew Heavens