The U.S. Navy has begun moving its ship and submarines away from Hawaii as Hurricane Lane bears down on the state.
Rear Adm. Brian Fort, commander of the Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, said Wednesday that all ships not currently undergoing maintenance are being moved out of Pearl Harbor and will be positioned to help respond after the storm, if needed.
The hurricane was about 490 kilometers (304 miles) south of Kailua-Kona and moving northwest toward other islands.
Lane's winds had slowed overnight from 259 to 250 kilometers per hour, prompting a downgrade from a Category 5 to a Category 4 hurricane.
The National Weather Service warned Hawaiians to expect flash flooding and landslides, with total rain accumulation of around 40 centimeters (16 inches). "Large and potentially damaging surf" will affect exposed shorelines facing the west, south and east, the NWS said.
It added that regardless of the exact track of the storm, the state should brace for the potentially life-threatening impacts.
Governor David Ige has signed an emergency proclamation to "provide relief for disaster damages, losses and suffering" caused by the hurricane. The proclamation declares the counties of "Hawaii, Maui, Kalawao, Kauai and the City and County of Honolulu disaster areas for the purpose of implementing emergency management functions," his office said.
Public schools on the Big Island and in Maui County, which includes the island of Maui and several smaller islands, closed Wednesday until further notice.
The central Pacific gets fewer hurricanes than other regions, with about four or five named storms a year. Hawaii rarely gets hit.
But longtime Hawaii residents were reminded of the destruction caused by Hurricane Iniki in 1992 that made landfall on Kauai island as a Category 4 storm. It killed six people and caused $1.8 billion in damage.