Hurricane Dorian posed an increasing menace to Florida on Thursday as it pushes over open waters after doing limited damage in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Dorian could potentially hit the U.S. coast as a powerful Category 4 storm before hitting the U.S. mainland late Sunday or early Monday somewhere between the Florida Keys and southern Georgia.
“Hurricane Dorian looks like it will be hitting Florida late Sunday night,” U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted. “Be prepared and please follow State and Federal instructions, it will be a very big Hurricane, perhaps one of the biggest!”
Dorian was centred about 355 kilometres north-northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, by late Thursday morning. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said its top winds were blowing at 140 km/h as the storm moved northwest at 20 km/h.
Forecast models show Dorian could have maximum sustained winds as high as 209 km/h as it approaches the Florida coast over the Labour Day weekend, putting it right at the threshold of Category 4 strength. Also imperilled were the Bahamas, with Dorian’s forecast track running just to the north of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for counties that could be in the storm’s path, and urged people to have a week’s worth of supplies.
Across much of Florida’s east coast, residents began flocking to the grocery stores and gas stations, stocking up in anticipation of the storm. There were lines at many gas stations in South Florida as people began filling gas cans and topping off their gas tanks. Some residents using community Facebook groups gave updates on new shipments of water to restock the nearly empty shelves at local grocery stores.
Josefine Larrauri, a retired translator, went to a Publix supermarket in Miami only to find empty shelves in the water section and store employees were unsure of when new cases would arrive.
Larrauri fled to Orlando two years ago when Hurricane Irma was expected to hit South Florida as a Category 5 storm and ended up shifting west to land on the Lower Keys and then Marco Island. This time, she said the uncertainty made her nervous.
“I feel helpless because the whole coast is threatened,” she said. “What’s the use of going all the way to Georgia if it can land there?”
Puerto Rico largely spared damage amid ongoing recovery
The storm was a Category 1 hurricane Wednesday when it swirled through the islands of the northeastern Caribbean, causing power outages and flooding in places but doing no major damage.
Puerto Rico seemed to be spared any heavy wind and rain, a huge relief on an island where blue tarps still cover some 30,000 homes nearly two years after Hurricane Maria. The island’s 3.2 million inhabitants also depend on an unstable power grid that remains prone to outages since it was destroyed by Maria, a Category 4 storm.
Several hundred customers were without power across Puerto Rico, said Angel Figueroa, president of a union that represents power workers.
Police said an 80-year-old man in the northern town of Bayamon died Wednesday after he fell trying to climb up to his roof to clear it of debris ahead of the storm.
Before the storm, Trump sent a tweet assuring islanders that “FEMA and all others are ready, and will do a great job.”
He then added a jab at Puerto Rican officials who have accused his administration of a slow and inadequate response to Hurricane Maria: “When they do, let them know it, and give them a big Thank You — Not like last time. That includes from the incompetent Mayor of San Juan!”
The mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, tweeted that Trump needs to “calm down get out of the way and make way for those of us who are actually doing the work on the ground,” adding that maybe he “will understand this time around THIS IS NOT ABOUT HIM; THIS IS NOT ABOUT POLITICS; THIS IS ABOUT SAVING LIVES.”
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