Hurricane Dorian keeps pounding north Bahamas

In a slow, relentless advance, Hurricane Dorian kept pounding at the northern Bahamas early Monday, as one of the strongest Atlantic storms ever recorded left wrecked homes, shredded roofs, tumbled cars and toppled power poles in its wake.

The storm’s top sustained winds decreased slightly to 270 km/h as its westward movement slowed, crawling along Grand Bahama island Monday morning at 2 km/h in what forecasters said would be a daylong assault. Earlier, Dorian churned over Abaco island with battering winds and surf during Sunday.

Information began emerging from the affected islands, with Bahamas Power and Light saying there is a total blackout in New Providence, the archipelago’s most populous island.

“The reports out of Abaco [island] as everyone knows were not good,” company spokesperson Quincy Parker told ZNS Bahamas radio station.

Most people went to shelters as the Category 5 storm approached, with tourist hotels shutting down and residents boarding up their homes. But many people were expected to be left homeless.

“It’s devastating,” Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, said Sunday afternoon. “There has been huge damage to property and infrastructure. Luckily, no loss of life reported.”

Florida Department of Health staffers set up beds at an evacuation shelter for people with disabilities in preparation for Hurricane Dorian in Stuart, Fla., on Sunday. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

On Sunday, Dorian’s maximum sustained winds reached 297 km/h, with gusts up to 354 km/h, tying the record for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane to ever make landfall. That equalled the Labour Day hurricane of 1935, before storms were named. The only recorded storm that was more powerful was Hurricane Allen in 1980, with 305 km/h winds, though it did not make landfall at that strength.

Forecasters said Dorian was most likely to begin pulling away from the Bahamas early Tuesday and curving to the northeast parallel to the U.S. Southeast seaboard. Still, the potent storm was expected to stay close to shore and hammer the coast with dangerous winds and heavy surf, while authorities cautioned that it could still make landfall.

Canada’s Global Affairs is advising Canadians to avoid all travel to the Bahamas and to the east coast of Florida, from north of Deerfield Beach to the mouth of the St. Mary’s River.

Strong winds move the palms of the palm trees at the first moment of the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, on Sunday. (Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press)

Early Monday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the eye of the powerful Category 5 storm was virtually parked over Grand Bahama Island — crawling west as it dumped rain and lashed the island with destructive winds.

The centre said a “life-threatening storm surge” could raise water levels by as much as seven metres above normal tide in parts of Grand Bahama Island.

People leave Sweetings Cay, Grand Bahama, on Saturday due to the danger of floods ahead of the arrival of Dorian. (Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press)

At 8 a.m. ET, the storm was about 50 kilometres east-northeast of Freeport, Grand Bahama Island and about 190 kilometres east of West Palm Beach, Fla.

The flight tracking site FlightAware on Monday listed 990 cancellations of flights heading into or out of Florida airports in Orlando, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach.

South Carolina evacuation affects 830,000

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says although the official forecast does not show Dorian making landfall in Florida, the hurricane could deviate from that prediction and move near or over the coast. Florida’s east-central coast may see a “brief tornado” sometime between Monday afternoon and night, the centre said.

The centre also said the likelihood was increasing of strong winds and a dangerous storm surge along the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina later this week.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an order Sunday for the mandatory evacuation of his state’s entire coast. The order, which covers about 830,000 people, was to take effect at noon Monday, at which point state troopers were 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.

A few hours later, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ordered mandatory evacuations for the state’s Atlantic coast, also starting at midday Monday.

Authorities in Florida ordered mandatory evacuations in some vulnerable coastal areas. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned his state it could see heavy rain, winds and floods later in the week.

A man lies on a cot at an evacuation shelter in Stuart, Fla., on Sunday. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

Dorian first came ashore Sunday at Elbow Cay in Abaco island at 12:40 p.m. ET, then made a second landfall near Marsh Harbour at 2 p.m.

Catastrophic conditions were reported in Abaco, with a storm surge of five to 5.7 metres.

Video that Jibrilu and government spokesperson Kevin Harris said was sent by Abaco residents showed homes missing parts of roofs, electric lines on the ground and smashed and overturned cars. One showed floodwaters rushing through the streets of an unidentified town at nearly the height of a car roof.

In some parts of Abaco, “you cannot tell the difference as to the beginning of the street versus where the ocean begins,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said. According to the Nassau Guardian, he called it “probably the most sad and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people.”

‘The winds are howling’

Bahamas radio station ZNS Bahamas reported a mother and child on Grand Bahama had called to say they were sheltering in a closet and seeking help from police.

Silbert Mills, owner of the Bahamas Christian Network, said trees and power lines were torn down in Abaco.

“The winds are howling like we’ve never, ever experienced before,” said Mills, who was riding out the hurricane with his family in the concrete home he built 41 years ago on central Abaco.

Jack Pittard, a 76-year-old American who has visited the Bahamas for 40 years, also decided to stay put on Abaco for Dorian, which he said was his first hurricane. A short video from Pittard about 2:30 p.m. Sunday showed the wind shaking his home and ripping off the siding.

The Bahamas archipelago is no stranger to hurricanes. Homes are required 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 those who can afford it. Risks are higher in poorer neighbourhoods, with wooden homes in low-lying areas.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Dorian is forecast to get to 64 to 80 kilometres off Florida, with hurricane-force wind speeds extending about 56 kilometres to the west.

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for Florida’s East Coast from Deerfield Beach north to the Georgia state line. The same area was put under a storm surge watch. Lake Okeechobee was under a tropical storm watch.

Mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying and flood-prone areas and mobile homes were in effect starting either Sunday or Monday from Palm Beach County north to at least the Daytona Beach area, and some counties to the north issued voluntary evacuation notices. Weekend traffic was light in Florida despite those orders, unlike during the chaotic run-up to Hurricane Irma in 2017 when the unusually broad storm menaced the entire state.

Ken Graham, director of the hurricane centre, urged people not to bet on safety just because the forecast track had the storm a bit offshore. With every new forecast, “we keep nudging [Dorian’s track] a little bit to the left” — that is, is closer to the Florida coast, Graham said.

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