HONOLULU COUNTY, Hawaii ― Hurricane Lane has been downgraded to a Category 3 storm and is expected to weaken gradually over the next few days. But officials warned Thursday that the effects of the storm will still create dangerous conditions across the state for a few more days.
Heavy rainfall from the storm’s outer rain bands battered the Big Island on Wednesday night and into Thursday, flooding roads and homes. By Thursday evening, Lane was 180 miles southwest of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island with maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour.
Gov. David Ige asked residents to avoid unnecessary travel as heavy rains continue across the state.
“THIS IS A VERY DANGEROUS SITUATION,” he tweeted.
Hawaii County’s hurricane watch was also downgraded to a tropical storm warning, but National Weather Service meteorologist Maureen Ballard said that Lane can still cause a lot of damage across the state, including the Big Island, as it passes through.
“This is still hurricane strength. It is supposed to weaken a little bit, but it would remain hurricane strength as it gets closer to the islands,” Ballard told HuffPost.
“Flooding is a huge issue, especially with the hurricane’s slow movement,” she added, noting that heavy rains are expected over the next few days as Lane’s rain bands linger over the island chain.
A hurricane warning is still in effect for Oahu and Maui County, including the islands of Lanai and Molokai. Kauai County, including the island of Niihau, is under a hurricane watch.
Hurricane Lane’s outer bands have already caused major flooding and mudslides on the Big Island, which saw an estimated 20 inches of rain in the past 24 hours. Landslides partially blocked parts of Highway 19 in Hilo, which runs up the Big Island’s northeastern coast.
Ken Boyer, a photographer based on the Big Island, told HuffPost he’s seen “at least 30” homes that have been flooded while surveying neighborhoods in Hilo on Thursday ― and he suspects more homes have been flooded.
Boyer filmed a stream of water eroding the foundation of a house that he says was newly built. As the heavy rain continues, Boyer said, the foundation likely will give out.
Hurricane Lane continues to move north-northwest of the Big Island at 6 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service’s 5 p.m. update. It is expected to inch toward Maui, Lanai and Molokai throughout Friday before turning west toward Oahu and Kauai on Saturday.
Heavy rains on Maui have closed parts of the Hana Highway due to fallen trees and flooded streams. The Hana Highway wraps around the remote, east side of the island. Maui is expected to see tropical storm conditions Thursday night, with some parts of the island seeing hurricane conditions on Friday.
The island of Oahu, where nearly 70 percent of the state’s population lives, saw overcast skies and some rain on Thursday, but conditions may intensify late Thursday night. Honolulu County turned on its sirens at 4 p.m. to alert residents on Oahu to begin seeking shelter before nightfall.
Hurricane Lane will continue to bring heavy rain across the state, “leading to significant and life-threatening flash flooding and landslides,” according to the National Weather Service. Lane is also producing heavy surf across south- and west-facing shorelines.
While Hurricane Lane’s exact path is still uncertain, Ballard said continuous rain and the potential for strong winds could still be damaging even if the storm’s eye doesn’t make landfall.
“The hurricane [category] strength is only windspeed. There are so many other factors that will cause damage,” Ballard told HuffPost.
“Rain, storm surge ― those don’t get factored into what we know as ‘category.’ You end up with all of this rain and all of this water that will cause additional problems. And if you start having any sort of strong winds, that will only exacerbate the situation.”
Shelters have opened across the state. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has prepared stocks of food, water, generators and other supplies to support the state during emergency conditions.
Airlines have canceled some flights out of Hawaii as Lane neared the state. United Airlines canceled all flights going out of Kahului on Maui on Friday. Alaska Airlines canceled 12 flights to and from Kahului scheduled for Friday.
Ohana by Hawaiian Airlines, which operates inter-island flights, canceled some flights on Thursday and all flights on Friday.
United also added two Thursday flights from Honolulu to San Francisco, while Delta Air Lines added one extra Thursday flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles.