Typhoon Ioke, a Category 5 storm and the strongest to hit the Pacific in more than a decade, reached the small Pacific island Thursday.
The storm, packing sustained winds of more than 165 mph, with some gusts topping 190 mph, came ashore at about 10 a.m. ET, and was slowly tracking in a westerly direction, gaining strength over the warm tropical waters, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center reported. Wake Island is located about 2,300 miles west of Honolulu.
Air Force planes evacuated all 200 of the island's residents on Monday in preparation for what forecasters are calling the most powerful central Pacific tropical storm in a decade.
Visual reconnaissance planes will head out after Ioke clears, said Maj. Clare Reed, spokeswoman for the 15th Airlift Wing at Hickam Air Force Base.
"We're hoping everything turns out well," Reed said. But she said senior Air Force officers would decide what to do with the facility if Ioke causes so much destruction that troops and workers couldn't return immediately.
Forecasters have predicted the storm would submerge the 2.5-square-mile island and demolish any non-concrete structures.
"This thing is so strong that it's just going to clean things out, unfortunately," said Tim Craig, National Weather Service lead forecaster in Honolulu.
Forecasts called for the storm to head northwest toward Japan over the open ocean after it passes over Wake Island. It is likely to gradually lose some of its power in coming days. No populated islands lie in Ioke's immediate path.
Ioke is the first Category 5 hurricane to develop in the central Pacific since record keeping began in the early 1960s.
It also is the most powerful storm to pass through the central Pacific since hurricanes Emilia and Gilma, both in July 1994