Hurricane Lane strengthens to Category 5 as it heads for Hawaii

HONOLULU (Reuters) – Hurricane Lane strengthened to a Category 5 storm on Tuesday as it headed toward Hawaii where residents braced for “life threatening” winds and flooding when it hits the U.S. islands this week, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

The hurricane, packing 160 miles per hour (260 km) winds was expected to hit Hawaii’s Big Island on Thursday with gusts capable of damaging roofs and knocking out power, the NHC warned.

“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the center said.

The center of the storm is expected to track “dangerously” close to or over the islands Thursday through Saturday, the NHC said.

“Slow weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours, but Lane is forecast to remain a dangerous hurricane as it draws closer to the Hawaiian Islands,” the center said.

After hitting the Big Island, the storm is expected to churn north over the islands of Maui, Lanai and Moloka’i, which were all under hurricane and flash flood watches.

Rainfall of 20 inches (51 cm) in some areas could lead to major flash flooding, landslides and mudslides, the NHC said.

Devastation caused by winds and flooding may make locations uninhabitable for weeks and authorities warned Hawaii residents to be prepared to evacuate their homes.

The Big Island is still reeling from a three-month eruption of Kilauea volcano, which forced thousands of residents to evacuate their homes and engulfed hundreds of structures in lava.

Reporting by Andrew Hay and Brendan O’Brien, Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler

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