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.
Last night, the National Weather Service announced that Hurricane Lane had become a Category 5 hurricane, but it has since weakened to Category 4, still packing winds of 155 mph.
The hurricane was about 460 miles southeast of Honolulu at dawn Wednesday and The National Weather Service extended a hurricane warning for Hawaii's Big Island to include the island of Maui.
Meteorologists say the hurricane was 315 miles southeast of Hilo and moving west-northwest at about 9 mph.
"We are starting to see some of the rain show up on the Big Island radar," one forecaster said. Offshore buoys also had detected wave action associated with the storm.
The weather service in a special statement said tropical-storm-force winds could begin as early as Wednesday afternoon or evening on the Big Island.
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 (253 kph) or above.
A hurricane watch remained in effect for Oahu 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.
There's uncertainty to Lane's path, said meteorologist Gavin Shigesato.
"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.