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Last Update: May 27, 2008 5:37 PM

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Wake Island evacuated as Super Typhoon Ioke closes in

HONOLULU (AP) - The military evacuated 200 people from Wake Island on Monday before the arrival of Typhoon Ioke, the strongest Central Pacific hurricane in more than decade.

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Classified as a Category 5 "super typhoon," Ioke is expected to cause extensive damage when it hits Wake Island with 155 mph winds on Wednesday, said Jeff Powell, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service in Honolulu.

"This is going to roll up a storm surge that will probably submerge the island and destroy everything that's not made of concrete," Powell said. "It's a good thing it's way out in the water."

The 200 people were loaded onto two C-17 Globemaster III aircraft and flown to Hickam Air Force Base on Oahu, said Maj. Clare Reed, a spokeswoman for the 15th Airlift Wing. They arrived Monday afternoon.

Wake Island is 2,300 miles west of Honolulu and 1,510 miles east of Guam.

Those evacuated were mostly American and Thai contractors for the Department of Defense who work at the civilian base on the island run by Chugach Alaska Corporation, which handles all island operations, Reed said.

No other permanent residents live on the tiny island, she said.

Ioke was already a Category 5 hurricane with winds of 160 mph and gusts up to 185 mph on Monday, Powell said. Ioke was 560 miles southeast of Wake Island, on track for a direct hit with the American territory, according to the forecast.

It's expected to strike Wake Island at 2 p.m. HST on Wednesday, which is noon on Thursday on the island.

"We're taking everyone out," Reed said. "Our concern was to get in before the runway was inoperable."

Ioke is the first storm on record to develop in the Central Pacific and achieve Category 5 status, according to the National Weather Service. Satellite images into the eye of the storm showed it set an unofficial record for the lowest sea level pressure.

Ioke has been a Category 4 storm or higher for about a week already, making it one of the longest-lasting storms in world history, Powell said. It is currently ranked as the fifth-strongest storm ever seen in the Central Pacific, and it's the first Category 5 storm in the region since Hurricane John in 1994.

"Had this thing hit the U.S. mainland or the Hawaiian Islands, it would have been a huge mess," Powell said.

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