HAWAII (NBC) — Nearly 20 inches of rain fell on parts of Hawaii’s Big Island as Hurricane Lane approached the state early Friday, causing heavy flooding and landslides that blocked roads — but the worst is still yet to come, according to forecasters.
Lane has weakened to a Category 3 storm but is still a powerful, slow-moving system that meteorologists say could be devastating to parts of Hawaii, a state that hasn’t been pummeled by a hurricane in nearly a quarter-century.
“Hawaii is going to be impacted by Hurricane Lane. The question is how bad,” Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long said.
At 11 p.m. local time Thursday (5 a.m. ET Friday), Lane still had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. The hurricane’s center was around 215 miles south of Honolulu, and was moving north-northwest at 6 mph.
But the concern surrounding Lane is not about the winds; it’s about the heavy rain.
“Excessive rainfall associated with this slow moving hurricane will continue to impact the Hawaiian Islands into the weekend, leading to significant and life-threatening flash flooding and landslides,” the National Weather Service said in its 5 a.m. ET bulletin, adding that “extreme flooding” was already occurring on the Big Island.
Hurricane-force winds were extending outward up to 35 miles from Lane’s center with tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 125 miles, the weather service said.
Even if Lane does not make a direct hit on Hawaii, it could prove life-threatening.
“You don’t have to have an actual landfall to have major problems,” said NBC News’ Al Roker. “It’s still a dangerous storm, and it’s not even close to being done yet.”
The slow movement of the storm could mean that heavy rain and other effects are prolonged for Hawaii, officials said.
“Some weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours, but Lane is expected to remain a hurricane as it draws closer to the islands,” the NWS said.
Video: Flooding in Hilo, Hawaii. (App users watch here)
Hawaii County Civil Defense said heavy rainfall was already occurring on the Big Island, and flooding and landslides forced the closure of Highway 19 in Hilo and Honomu, as well as several other roadways, NBC affiliate KHNL of Honolulu reported.
Route 270 on the Big island was also closed due to landslides and flooding, the Hawaii Department of Transportation said.
The last Category 5 storm to even come close to Hawaii was Hurricane John in 1994, which skirted 345 miles south of the islands. The last severely damaging hurricane was Iniki, a Category 4 storm that killed six people in September 1992.