At least 5 dead as ‘historic’ Hurricane Dorian batters Bahamas, estimated 13,000 homes destroyed – USA TODAY
JUPITER, Fla. – At least five people have died in the Abaco Islands in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Monday evening.
Hurricane Dorian continues to pound the region as a Category 4 storm.
Minnis said that there are also people in Great Bahama island in serious distress. Rescue crews will respond to calls for help as soon as weather conditions allow.
“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy,” Minnis said.
Historic Hurricane Dorian stalled over the northern Bahamas on Monday, pounding the islands with heavy rains, storm surge and howling winds before the storm directs its rage toward the U.S. coast.
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As of 8 p.m. EDT, Dorian’s advance westward along the archipelago slowed to a crawl while top sustained winds eased slightly to 140 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center, causing Dorian to slip from a Category 5 to Category 4 – still a brutal storm.
The hurricane will continue its assault on Grand Bahama Island into the night, the center said. Some areas could see up to 2 feet of rain, and storm surge could reach 23 feet, forecasters warned. Heavy rains capable of creating life-threatening flash floods over the northern part of the Bahamas are expected through Friday.
Everyone there should remain sheltered and not venture into the eye, the center said Monday evening.
Emergency responders were already overwhelmed.An estimated 13,000 homes have been destroyed, according to the Salvation Army, which has volunteers stationed in the group of islands.
Power and communications outages made damage assessment difficult. The few videos that have emerged from the Abaco Islands show destroyed homes, flooded roads and residents pleading for help and prayers.
Florida and the U.S. East Coast remained a target. The storm will move “dangerously close” to the Florida east coast late Monday through Wednesday night, the center said. Dorian is forecast to turn toward the northwest, roaring parallel to Florida about 30 to 40 miles offshore, before continuing north along the East Coast deep into the week.
Dangerous surge and hurricane winds are expected on parts of Florida’s east coast and the coastal South Carolina and Georgia, the center said Monday evening. The risk of life-threatening surge in North Carolina continues to increase.
Heavy rains that could cause flooding are expected in the lower Mid-Atlantic and the coastal Southeast of the United States through Friday as well.
That gap remains right on the edge of delivering the worst of Dorian to the Florida coastline. Center Director Ken Graham stressed that the state’s east coast will be dealing with wind, rain and storm surge as high as 7 feet through Wednesday.
“No matter the track, no matter the characteristics of the storm, the water’s coming, so please just everyone listen to the local officials,” Graham said. “Remember water can rise a lot earlier before the storm gets there. This is life and death.”
Weather concerns brought havoc to air travel on the busy Labor Day holiday as airlines canceled more than 1,100 Monday flights within, into or out of the United States, according to flight tracker FlightAware.
President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency and was being briefed regularly about what he called a “monstrous” storm.
“I spoke with President Trump. He’s fully engaged in this,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Monday. “He just reiterated that he’s going to provide any resources we need to weather Dorian.”
DeSantis said all coastal counties have issued evacuation orders, and 72 nursing homes have been evacuated. More than 4,000 members of the state National Guard have been called up, and power companies are prepared to dispatch 17,000 personnel to combat outages.
The hurricane center said wind gusts exceeded 220 mph when the storm made landfall in the Bahamas on Sunday afternoon. The winds matched the records set by the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, which tore through the Florida Keys, killing more than 400 people in the days before hurricanes were given names.
“This is probably the saddest and worst day for me to address the Bahamian people,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Sunday. “We are facing a hurricane that we have never seen in the Bahamas. Please pray for us.”
The only recorded storm that was more powerful was Hurricane Allen in 1980, with 190 mph winds, though it did not make landfall at that strength.
Dorian made landfall in Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas around noon Sunday, then made a second landfall near Marsh Harbor on Great Abaco at 2 p.m. The raging winds wrought destruction and terrified islanders who sought shelter in schools, churches and other facilities.
“It’s devastating,” said Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism and Aviation. “There has been huge damage to property and infrastructure.”
Florida, Georgia, Carolina coasts
The storm was about 110 east of West Palm Beach, Florida. In Jupiter, 20 miles to the north, rain pelted Michael Schrimsher’s bright yellow slicker. Dorian-driven waves crashed into the Jupiter Beach Park jetty under gray skies.
“I think everybody’s a little worried,” Schrimsher said. “We have a concrete house. But this one’s a little scary.”
After rolling up along the Florida coast, the hurricane was forecast to track near the Georgia and Carolina coasts late this week.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster ordered mandatory evacuation of his state’s entire coast effective Monday. The order covers about 830,000 people, and state troopers planned to make all lanes on major coastal highways one-way heading inland.
“We can’t make everybody happy, but we believe we can keep everyone alive,” McMaster said.
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A few hours later, Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, ordered evacuations for that state’s Atlantic coast, also starting at midday Monday.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned his state that it could see heavy rain, winds and floods later in the week. Mandatory evacuations of visitors to North Carolina’s Outer Banks will begin Tuesday morning, according to government officials from Hyde and Dare counties.
“The time to prepare is now,” Coooper warned. “North Carolina must take this seriously.”
Rodriguez and Bacon reported from McLean, Va.
Contributing: Morgan Hines, Dawn Gilbertson and Hannah Yasharoff, USA TODAY; Janine Zeitlin, Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press; Amber Roberson, Tallahassee Democrat; Dan DeLuca, Treasure Coast Newspapers; The Associated Press