The approach of Hurricane Lane has started to feel more real for Hawaiian residents, as emergency shelters opened, rain began to pour and mobile phone alerts were sent.
The hurricane is forecast to continue its north-west turn into the islands on Thursday, which would make it the most powerful storm to hit Hawaii since Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
“Everyone is starting to buckle down at this point,” said Christyl Nagao of Kauai. “Our families are here. We have businesses … You just have to man your fort and hold on tight.”
Officials opened shelters on the Big Island and on the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai on Wednesday.
They urged those needing to use the Molokai shelter to get there soon because of concerns the main road on the south coast of the island could become impassable.
On the island of Oahu, which was put on a hurricane warning late on Wednesday, shelters are scheduled to open on Thursday.
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency administrator Tom Travis said there is not enough shelter space across the state and advised those who are not in flood zones to stay at home.
Officials warned the limited shelter space should be a “last resort” and are not designed to withstand winds greater than about 40mph.
“Whenever possible, the public should plan to shelter in place or stay with family or friends in homes outside of these hazard areas that were designed, built, or renovated to withstand anticipated conditions,” the city and county of Honolulu said in a news release.
Hurricanes are ranked 1 to 5 according to what is known as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Hurricane Lane is at category 4, which means winds from 130 to 156mph.
Governor David Ige said the Big Island is already starting to see Lane’s first effects.
The hurricane’s outer rain bands were bringing showers to some parts of the island, said Matt Foster, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
The eastern side of the island picked up nearly 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) of rain in three hours, Foster said.
Meteorologist Chevy Chevalier said Lane may drop to a Category 3 by Thursday afternoon but that would still be a major hurricane.
The central Pacific gets fewer hurricanes than other regions, with about only four or five named storms a year. Hawaii rarely gets hit.
The last major storm to hit was Iniki in 1992, though others have come close in recent years.
Unlike Florida or Texas, where residents can get in their cars and drive hundreds of miles to safety, people in Hawaii are confined to the islands.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has several barges carrying food, water and supplies which it moved into the region ahead of Hurricane Hector, which skirted past the islands more than a week ago.