Hurricane Dorian crashed into the Bahamas on Sunday as the second strongest Atlantic storm on record and inched closer to the US mainland, with parts of Florida evacuating and Georgia and the Carolinas bracing for wind and flooding.
- Hurricane Dorian is unleashing at 260 kph and is travelling west at 13 kph
- Restaurants and hotels have been boarded up across the Bahamas archipelago in preparation
- South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster has declared a state of emergency
The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Dorian made landfall on Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands as a Category 5 storm with maximum sustained winds of 295 kilometres per hour and gusts of more than 354 kph.
Millions of people from Florida to North Carolina were bracing to see whether Dorian avoids a US landfall and veers north into the Atlantic Ocean.
Even a glancing blow from one of the strongest storms ever to menace Florida could bring torrential rains and damaging winds, and “a Florida landfall is still a distinct possibility”, the Miami-based NHC warned.
Bahamas residents reported trees snapping and docks being destroyed before the brunt of the storm arrived. The pummelling was expected to last for hours as the hurricane may slow to just 1.6kph, “prolonging its catastrophic effects,” the NHC said.
Residents prepare for the worst
Prior to the storm’s landfall, in the northern stretches of the Bahamas archipelago, hotels closed, residents boarded up homes and officials hired boats to move people from low-lying areas to bigger islands.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis warned that Dorian is a “dangerous storm” and said any people “who do not evacuate are placing themselves in extreme danger and can expect a catastrophic consequence”.
Small skiffs shuttled Saturday between outlying fishing communities and McLean’s Town, a settlement of a few dozen homes at the eastern end of Grand Bahama island, about 240km from Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Most people came from Sweeting Cay, a fishing town of a few hundred people about 1.5 meters above sea level.
“We’re not taking no chances,” Margaret Bassett, a ferry boat driver for the Deep Water Cay resort, said. “They said evacuate, you have to evacuate.”
‘Ride out the storm’
But Jack Pittard, an American who has been traveling to the Bahamas for about 40 years, said he has decided to ride out the storm in the Abaco Islands. He said it’s the first hurricane he will experience.
“There’s fear. I’m worried about destruction of property, but I don’t believe there’s going to be loss of lives here,” he said.
Over two or three days, the slow-moving hurricane could dump as much as one meter of rain, unleash devastating winds and whip up a dangerous storm surge, private meteorologist Ryan Maue said.
Government spokesman Kevin Harris said Dorian was expected to impact some 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes. Authorities closed airports for the Abaco Islands, Grand Bahama and Bimini, but Lynden Pindling International Airport at the capital of Nassau remained open.
The Bahamas archipelago is frequently hit by hurricanes. Construction codes require homes to have metal reinforcements for roof beams to withstand winds into the upper limits of a Category 4 hurricane, and compliance is generally tight for residents who can afford it.
Risks are higher in poorer communities, which typically have wooden homes and are generally in lower-lying areas.
The slow-crawling storm was predicted to take until Monday afternoon to pass over the Bahamas, and then turn sharply and skirt up the US coast, staying just off Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then buffeting South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned residents along that state’s densely populated Atlantic coast was “not out of the woods yet”.
He noted some forecast models still bring Dorian close to or even onto the Florida peninsula.
“That could produce life-threatening storm surge and hurricane force winds,” Mr DeSantis said.
“That cone of uncertainty still includes a lot of areas on the east coast of Florida and even into central and north Florida, so we are staying prepared and remaining vigilant.”
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency, mobilising state resources to prepare for potential storm effects.
The hurricane upended some Labor Day holiday weekend plans in the US; major airlines allowed travellers’ to change their reservations without fees and big cruise lines rerouted their ships.