(Reuters) - Powerful Hurricane Lane weakened slightly as it swirled toward Hawaii on Wednesday but U.S. forecasters warned that its heavy rains and life-threatening winds still posed a major threat to the Pacific island chain.
The U.S. Central Pacific Hurricane Center downgraded Hurricane Lane to a Category 4, the second-strongest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of wind intensity.
Bearing 155-mile per hour (250 km/h) winds, it threatened to dump as much as 20 inches (50 cm) of rain over parts of the islands, triggering major flash flooding and landslides.
Hawaii is already coping with the three-month eruption of Kilauea volcano on the Big Island, which was expected to start feeling the force of Lane's driving rains by late Wednesday afternoon, the Hawaii-based center said.
It said further weakening of the cyclone was expected as it continued on a track that could see it take aim at other islands beginning early Thursday.
"The center of Lane will track dangerously close to the islands Thursday through Saturday," the advisory said. "Regardless of the exact track of the center, life threatening impacts are likely in some areas as the hurricane makes its closest approach."
The most powerful storm on record hitting Hawaii was Hurricane Iniki, a Category 4 that made landfall on Kauai island on Sept. 11, 1992, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It killed six people and damaged or destroyed more than 14,000 homes.
On Tuesday, Hawaii residents scrambled to prepare for the storm's arrival. Cars waited in long lines outside gasoline stations in Honolulu and people could be seen pulling small boats from the water ahead of expected pounding surf.
Lane was about 315 miles (505 km) south of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, at 5 a.m. Hawaii time, U.S. forecasters said. It was expected to begin a turn toward the northwest of the island later on Wednesday, followed by a turn to the north-northwest on Thursday.
A Hurricane warning was in effect for all Hawaii County and Maui county, including the islands of Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe. A hurricane watch was in effect for Oahu and Kauai.
(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Tom Brown)
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Updated Date: Aug 23, 2018 00:07 AM