Friday 20 September 2019

Holiday state cowers before the power of hurricane's 300kmh gusts

Blowing up a storm: Freeport in Grand Bahama begins to be buffeted as Hurricane Dorian makes landfall. Photo: AP
Blowing up a storm: Freeport in Grand Bahama begins to be buffeted as Hurricane Dorian makes landfall. Photo: AP

Patricia Sullivan

Hurricane Dorian has slammed into the Bahamas with the full ferocity of a monstrous Category 5 cyclone.

It became the strongest storm ever to hit the island chain and the fiercest to traverse the Atlantic in nearly a century.

Blowing up a storm: Freeport in Grand Bahama begins to be buffeted as Hurricane Dorian makes landfall. Photo: Reuters
Blowing up a storm: Freeport in Grand Bahama begins to be buffeted as Hurricane Dorian makes landfall. Photo: Reuters

With sustained winds of nearly 300kmh when it made landfall - and gusts well above 320kmh - it remains powerful and unpredictable.

Forecasts predict Dorian will hit the South Florida coastline today, but what happens after that is still uncertain.

Hurricane Dorian could cause insurance industry losses of up to $25bn (€23.8bn), according to analysts at UBS.

Authorities ordered more than a million people evacuated in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia.

Blowing up a storm: Freeport in Grand Bahama begins to be buffeted as Hurricane Dorian makes landfall. Photo: AP
Blowing up a storm: Freeport in Grand Bahama begins to be buffeted as Hurricane Dorian makes landfall. Photo: AP

Should the storm make landfall in the peninsula, it could be catastrophic.

If it veers north and lumbers along the coast, it might not make a US landfall at all - but it could still bring extreme storm surge, massive rains and hurricane-force winds to much of the Eastern Seaboard throughout the week.

Dorian has been mercurial, slipping east of Puerto Rico to spare it yet another assault, and skipping across the Virgin Islands without leaving much damage in its wake.

Though at times predicted to make a direct hit on Florida's Space Coast - still a possibility - the storm appears potentially headed for a turn that would put Georgia and the Carolinas at risk.

Governors Henry McMaster of South Carolina and Brian Kemp of Georgia ordered mandatory evacuations from yesterday of their states' coasts.

The wobble the monster storm took on Saturday, nudging it in a slightly different direction, seems to have convinced a lot of weather- weary Floridians they are in the clear.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis however urged residents not to be complacent because of the shifting storm track, as he and officials across several states issued pleas for people potentially in Dorian's way to relocate.

"This storm, at this magnitude, could really cause massive destruction, and do not put your life in jeopardy when you have a chance to get out," Mr DeSantis said.

"We are in a situation where this thing is perilously close to the state."

He warned the storm's 300kmh winds exceed those of 1992's Hurricane Andrew, which demolished the Miami suburb of Homestead, and last year's Hurricane Michael, which wiped out the small town of Mexico Beach.

If the current winds continue, Mr DeSantis said, Dorian would rival the Labour Day hurricane of 1935, which destroyed the Florida Keys and is considered the strongest hurricane on record in the United States. It killed about 500 people.

Eric Silagy, chief executive of Florida Power and Light, the largest public utility in the state, urged residents to "respect Mother Nature".

"I think it is foolish to just rely on what is an estimate of a track that is offshore on a storm of this magnitude," Mr Silagy said.

"A few miles can make a big difference in wind speeds. If this storm continues on a western track and makes landfall there would be significant destruction. We'd have to rebuild part of our system. Concrete poles would be snapped in these kinds of winds. Homes would be destroyed."

Ronald Harris (76), a native Floridian - who had predicted on Saturday the storm would miss the state - said on Sunday: "I got up this morning and looked at the radar and briefings and said 'Oh no!'

"I came to the rational conclusion that I don't want to lose all my junk," said the retired engineer.

"I've been forced to clean up my yard, put the hurricane shutters up on my 14-foot front windows.

"Mother Nature said 'Ron, you pompous little so-and-so...' I'm not fearless, but I'm not stupid, either."

"It's going to miss us," said Sherita Davis (48). "But we'll get all the outer bands. The usual Florida. The winds. The rain."

President Donald Trump, after a briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, asked everyone in Dorian's path to pay close attention to the dangerous storm, and to heed all warnings and evacuation orders.

He said the federal government's top priorities as Dorian approaches the United States are to provide lifesaving and life-sustaining support to augment state and local efforts.

"We don't even know what's coming at us," Mr Trump said. "I am not sure that I've ever even heard of the Category 5, I knew it existed. That's the ultimate, and that's what we have, unfortunately."

Irish Independent

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