HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii residents rushed to stores to stock up on bottled water, ramen, toilet paper and other supplies as they faced the threat of heavy rain, flash flooding and high surf as a strengthening hurricane continued to churn toward the state.
On Tuesday night, the National Weather Service announced that Hurricane Lane had become a Category 5 hurricane, which means that it is likely to cause catastrophic damage with winds 157 mph or above. The hurricane is about 500 miles (804 kilometers) southeast of Honolulu.
Earlier Tuesday, the weather service issued a hurricane warning for Hawaii island and a hurricane watch for Oahu, Maui and other smaller islands, meaning tropical storm-force winds, excessive rain and large swells could arrive starting Wednesday.
Hurricane Lane "is forecast to move dangerously close to the main Hawaiian islands as a hurricane later this week, potentially bringing damaging winds and life-threatening flash flooding from heavy rainfall," the weather service's Central Pacific Hurricane Center warned as it got closer to the state.
The storm had been moving west, but it is expected to turn northwest toward the state Wednesday. There's uncertainty to Lane's path — whether it moves north or south, meteorologist Gavin Shigesato said.
"It is much too early to confidently determine which, if any, of the main Hawaiian islands will be directly impacted by Lane," the weather service said.
But the hurricane center said the storm will move very close to or over the islands from Thursday through Saturday. Even if the center of Lane doesn't make landfall, the islands could be walloped with rain and wind.
Public schools on the Big Island and in Maui County are closed Wednesday until further notice.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige is allowing non-essential state employees on the Big Island and Maui to go on administrative leave from Wednesday to Friday as Hurricane Lane approaches. Employees on Hawaii and Maui islands who work in disaster response as well as in hospitals and prisons are required to report to their jobs, the governor said.
Longtime Hawaii residents recalled a devastating 1992 hurricane as they prepared for Hurricane Lane.
Kauai resident Mike Miranda was 12 when Hurricane Iniki devastated the island 26 years ago. "A lot of people are comparing the similarities between Iniki and Lane," he said.
Iniki's turn into the islands was sudden, he recalled.
"I remember how very little rain fell. But I remember the wind being the strongest force of nature I've ever witnessed and probably the scariest sounds I've ever heard in my life," he said.
Utility poles were down all over the island, and his 7th-grade classes were held in Army tents for several months.
Miranda said his family is used to preparing for hurricane season.
"A lot of people who moved here and never experienced a hurricane . they're the ones rushing to the store," he said.
Associated Press writer Dan Joling in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.