HONOLULU (CBS News/AP) – Hurricane Lane remained a powerful Category 3 storm Friday as it churned slowly northwest near the Hawaiian Islands.

“CATASTROPHIC FLOODING OCCURRING ON THE BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII,” declared the Central Pacific Hurricane Center at the top of its latest advisory.

The Wailuku River flood waters run downstream on the Big Island on Aug. 23, 2018, in Hilo, Hawaii, during Hurricane Lane. (Getty Images)

As of Friday morning, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph and was moving at a pace of just 5 mph. The storm’s sluggish movement threatened to bring prolonged rain and increased the risk of flooding and landslides.

“The slow movement of Lane also greatly increases the threat for prolonged heavy rainfall and extreme rainfall totals,” the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said. “This is expected to lead to major, life-threatening flash flooding and landslides over all Hawaiian Islands.”

FEMA Briefing: “Please Heed The Warnings”

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service held a briefing about the hurricane response in Washington Friday morning.

“Please heed the warnings. It’s very dangerous to be outside,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long said.

As of the latest advisory at 5 a.m. Pacific time, the weather service said Lane remained a powerful Category 3 with 120 mph sustained winds, centered about 160 miles southwest of Kona, on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Meteorologist Steve Goldstein said its track is expected to continue through the day before turning west on Saturday. Lane will remain at hurricane strength, “dangerously close” to Hawaii through the day Friday and Saturday, while heavy rainfall and flooding will continue even after the eye of the storm passes.

1,500 Spend Night In Shelters

Red Cross officials say more than 1,500 people across the state stayed in shelters Thursday night as they waited out the storm, CBS Honolulu affiliate KGMB reports. The largest number sought shelter in Oahu, where 20 shelters hosted about 1,100 people overnight.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency says public schools can serve as shelters but most are not strong enough to withstand hurricane-force winds. Authorities are evaluating which school facilities are strong enough and in safe areas.

Lane Triggers Major Flooding On Big Island

The monster storm is expected to bring torrential rains to island communities. That was exactly what the Big Island saw through much of the day Thursday, reports CBS Honolulu affiliate KGMB-TV.

Heavy rains that started late Wednesday on the island triggered widespread flooding and evacuations, and closed several main thoroughfares.

Over the course of the day Thursday, several communities had already seen more than a foot of rain. Waiakea saw more than 23 inches, while Hakalau saw over two-and-a-half feet.

Saddle Road above Hilo was inundated with water, and officials with the Hawaii Department of Transportation reported water levels two to three feet deep.

Despite the severe weather conditions on the Big Island, only 14 residents opted to stay in state shelters, according to a count on Thursday night from officials with the Red Cross.

A flash flood warning remains in effect for the Big Island, and forecasters said the water levels on the Wailuku River rose an incredible 7 feet from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Tourists “Back” Out Of Trouble

Emergency crews rescued five California tourists from a home they were renting in Hilo after a nearby gulch overflowed and it flooded Thursday.

Suzanne Demerais said a tiny waterfall and small stream flowed near the home when she first arrived with four of her friends from the Los Angeles area. But the stream turned into a torrent and the river rose rapidly over 24 hours.

Hawaii County firefighters, who were in touch with the home’s owner, decided to evacuate the group before the water rose further. They floated the five out on their backs, Demerais said.

Torrential Rain Shaping Up As Main Event

As Hurricane Lane continued to trudge along late Thursday into Friday, its slow pace was emerging as the biggest concern.

The Central Pacific Hurricane Center, in Honolulu said, “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.”

“Lane is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 10 to 20 inches, with localized amounts of 30 to 40 inches possible over portions of the Hawaiian Islands. Over two feet of rain has already fallen at a few locations on the windward side of the Big Island.”

According to the center, as of 11 p.m Thursday local time, Lane was about 215 miles south of Honolulu and 165 miles southwest of Kailua-Kona, moving north at 6 mph.

Maximum sustained winds were almost 120 mph, with higher gusts.

“On the latest forecast track, the center of Lane will move over, or dangerously close to portions of the main Hawaiian islands late Friday and Friday night,” the center said. “Some weakening is forecast from Friday through late Saturday, but Lane is expected to remain a hurricane as it approaches the islands.”

Hurricane-force winds were extending outward up to 35 miles from Lane’s center and tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 125 miles.

Lane On “Perilously Close” Track To Hawaii, Forecasters Say

Forecasters say Lane’s current track has the storm coming “perilously close” the main Hawaiian Islands Thursday into Friday as a hurricane, CBS Honolulu affiliate KGMB reports. In addition to downpours, the hurricane is pushing up wave heights and could mean strong winds.

“Hurricane Lane is still a dangerous and powerful storm,” said Gov. David Ige, in a news conference on Thursday.

“Lane, while it’s been downgraded, is wide and very moist and it’s going to hang around for a while,” said Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell.

Hospitals Prepare For Surge In Patients

Hawaii’s hospitals prepared for a surge in patients as Lane neared, CBS Honolulu affiliate KGMB reports. The director of Hawaii’s Department of Health told KGMB that having enough hospital space in case of a huge influx is a major challenge.

“Basically, our health care system is very fragile in that respect. Our hospitals are full. They can’t afford to keep beds open for people in the event of storms like this,” said Bruce Anderson, director of the Hawaii Department of Health. “Fortunately, in this case we actually have a federal agency that has sent two teams here, 30 people on each team, with resources to help support establishing medical facilities if need be.”

The Queen’s Medical Center and its West Oahu facility postponed all elective procedures and surgeries on Friday and Saturday, KGMB reports. The hospitals are stocked up with supplies and the generators are ready. Employees have gone through training to deal with natural disasters or any large influx of patients.

“We’re a level-one trauma center, the only one in the state, and we’re really prepared for that. Then there’s after the event, if it’s really catastrophic, you see things such as dehydration, exhaustion, infections,” said Dr. Leslie Chun, chief medial officer at The Queen’s Medical Center.

Windward Oahu, Adventist Health Castle on Oahu said it had activated its 24/7 incident command center and has supplies ready for staff and patients. Other area hospitals also said they were ready if needed.

Big Island Downgraded To Tropical Storm Warning

As of 5 p.m. local time (8 p.m. Pacific), Lane was located about 180 miles southwest of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island, and 240 miles south of Honolulu. Maximum sustained winds were recorded at 120 mph, keeping it at a Category 3 storm.

A hurricane warning remained in effect for Oahu and Maui County, which includes the islands of Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe. Tropical storm conditions are expected to begin over portions of Maui County tonight, with hurricane conditions expected in some areas Friday, the National Hurricane Center said.

A hurricane watch is in effect for Kauai County, which includes the islands of Kauai and Niihau.

Tropical storm conditions are expected to last on portions of the Big Island Thursday night into Friday. The Big Island was downgraded to a tropiacl storm warning as the storm moved north.

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