Hurricane Dorian creeps up U.S. coast, prompts fears of near-record storm surge
Hurricane Dorian, back to a Category 3 storm, began raking the Southeast U.S. seaboard early Thursday, left tens of thousands without power as it threatened to inundate low-lying coasts from Georgia to Virginia with a life-threatening storm surge after its deadly mauling of the Bahamas.
As of early Thursday in South Carolina, over 16,800 in Charleston County and over 6,800 in Beaufort County were without power, according to Dominion Energy. Berkeley Electric Cooperative reported another 4,900 in Charleston County.
“We will experience hurricane-force winds, in at least gusts,” South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said at a news conference on Wednesday. Even if the hurricane doesn’t end up hitting the state directly, he said, “there’s still going to be wind and water and if you’re in the coastal area, that water can be treacherous.”
Dorian appeared likely to get dangerously near Charleston, S.C., which is vulnerably located on a peninsula. A flood chart posted by the U.S. National Weather Service projected a combined high tide and storm surge around Charleston Harbour of 3.1 metres; the record, four metres, was set by Hugo in 1989.
Power lines and trees have been reported down with the eye 128 kilometres southeast of Charleston Harbor as of 5 a.m. Thursday, CBS News reported. The network said road closures are in place due to flooding in downtown Charleston, and thousands of people in the city are without power.
Dorian had crashed into the Bahamas as the country’s strongest hurricane on record, leaving widespread devastation and at least 20 people dead. But it weakened substantially in the days since, dropping from a Category 5 to a Category 2 storm before increasing again late Wednesday. Dorian could maintain this intensity for about nine hours or so before gradual weakening through Saturday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
Stores and restaurants were boarded up with wood and corrugated metal in Charleston’s historic downtown, and about 830,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders on the South Carolina coast. More than 1,500 people were in 28 shelters statewide.
Georgia’s coastal islands were also at risk, Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday, adding “We are very worried, especially about the barrier islands getting cut off.”
In North Carolina, where authorities said an 85-year-old man died after falling from a ladder while getting ready for Dorian, Gov. Roy Cooper warned of the threat of storm surge and flash flooding from heavy rains. The Outer Banks barrier islands were particularly exposed.
Duke Energy said Dorian could cause more than 700,000 power outages in easternmost parts of North Carolina and South Carolina, and Georgia Power said about 2,800 homes and businesses were already without electricity.
The Navy ordered ships at its huge base in Norfolk, Va., to head to sea for safety, and warplanes at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, were being moved inland. The commander of the Navy Region Mid-Atlantic issued an emergency evacuation order for military personnel and their dependents in five North Carolina counties.
‘We are ready to go,’ FEMA official says
Though weakened, Dorian remained a force to be reckoned with, its swirling circle of winds and rain wrapped around a large, gaping eye visible on photos taken from space. At 2 a.m. EDT Thursday the distinct eye of the hurricane churned about 168 kilometres south of Charleston, moving north at 11 km/h off the coast with dangerously high winds of 185 km/h.
A hurricane warning covered about 800 kilometres of coastline, and authorities warned about 3 million residents to get away before the water and wind rose.
The acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Peter Gaynor, said 4,000 federal responders; 6,000 National Guard members; and 40,000 utility workers were on standby.
“We are ready to go,” Gaynor said. “We’ll follow Dorian up the coast until it is not a threat.”
In Florida, initially projected to take a direct hit from Dorian, there was widespread relief and gratitude Wednesday after the storm passed the state from a relatively safe distance offshore.
“We’re lucky today,” said Ryan Haggett, kitchen manager at the Oceanside Beach Bar and Grill, at Flagler Beach. Haggett and others removed storm shutters from restaurant windows, preparing to serve dinner Wednesday night.
With the threat to Florida easing and the danger shifting northward, Orlando, Florida’s international airport reopened, as did Walt Disney World and Universal. Dorian forced Disney Cruise Line to cancel one trip and delay the return of another ship to Port Canaveral, Florida.
One resident in the state died while preparing for the storm Monday evening, when Dorian’s path was still projected to threaten Florida. Joseph Walden, 56, was sitting on a tree limb and using a chainsaw to trim other limbs in the Orlando suburb of Ocoee when one of the cut limbs broke free and knocked him to the ground, police said. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.