'Monstrous' Hurricane Dorian strongest storm to hit northwestern Bahamas as parts of Florida evacuated
Hurricane Dorian became the strongest storm in modern records to hit the northwestern Bahamas and is expected to pound the islands with up to two days of torrential rain, high waves and damaging winds as parts of Florida evacuated before it took aim at the US mainland.
The U. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Dorian made landfall on Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands as a Category 5 storm on Sunday with maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (295 km per hour) and gusts of more than 220 mph (354 kph).
Millions of people from Florida to North Carolina were bracing to see whether Dorian avoids a US landfall and, as predicted, veers north into the Atlantic Ocean after hitting the Bahamas. Even a glancing blow from one of the strongest storms ever to menace Florida could bring torrential rains and damaging winds, and "a Florida landfall is still a distinct possibility," the Miami-based NHC warned.
Bahamas residents reported trees snapping and docks being destroyed before the brunt of the storm arrived. The pummeling was expected to last for hours as the hurricane may slow to just 1 mph, "prolonging its catastrophic effects," the NHC said.
On Great Guana Cay, just off Great Abaco Island, waves began washing over low-lying parts of the tiny 9-mile (14-km) strand of land that is only about a quarter-mile wide by mid-morning, resident Tom Creenan said.
Although some residents left for Nassau and elsewhere days ago, some 200 to 300 are riding out the storm on Great Guana Cay, where power was already out and forecasters are predicting up to 2 feet (61 cm) of rain and 23-foot (7-meter) storm surges.
"The other day the prime minister came out and said everybody in Abaco should leave," Creenan said by phone. "But there's no place to go."
"This is the strongest hurricane that's ever hit in the Bahamas," Creenan said. "I grew up in Florida, so I've been through Andrew."
Hurricane Andrew slammed into eastern Florida in 1992 as a category 5 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, obliterating the town of Homestead.
That state was taking no chances with Dorian and four Florida counties, including Palm Beach County, issued mandatory evacuations for some residents, including those in mobile homes, on barrier islands and in low-lying areas. Other coastal counties have announced voluntary evacuations.
US President Donald Trump warned on Sunday that the storm would likely impact the eastern seaboard from Florida to North Carolina.
"This looks monstrous," Trump said during a briefing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). "This looks like it could be larger than all of them."
FEMA is moving food, water and generators into the southeastern United States, said acting Administrator Peter Gaynor.
"When it comes to response, we are more than ready to deal with anything that Dorian delivers us this year, or any other storm that may come this season," he told CNN.
Meanwhile, a new tropical storm has formed southwest of Mexico and is expected to become a hurricane on Monday. Tropical Storm Juliette is 455 miles (735 km) from Manzanillo, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph), the NHC said on Sunday.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis warned that Dorian is a "dangerous storm" and said any "who do not evacuate are placing themselves in extreme danger and can expect a catastrophic consequence".
Small skiffs shuttled between outlying fishing communities and McLean's Town, a settlement of a few dozen homes at the eastern end of Grand Bahama island, about 150 miles from Florida's Atlantic coast.
Most people came from Sweeting Cay, a fishing town of a few hundred people about 5ft above sea level.
"We're not taking no chances," said Margaret Bassett, a ferry boat driver for the Deep Water Cay resort.
"They said evacuate, you have to evacuate."
Over two or three days, the slow-moving hurricane could dump as much as 4ft of rain, unleash devastating winds and whip up a dangerous storm surge, said private meteorologist Ryan Maue, seconding some of the most reliable computer models.
Government spokesman Kevin Harris said Dorian was expected to impact some 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes.
Authorities closed airports for the Abaco Islands, Grand Bahama and Bimini, but Lynden Pindling International Airport at the capital of Nassau remained open.
Jeffrey Allen, who lives in Freeport on Grand Bahama, said he had learned after several storms that sometimes predictions of damage do not materialise, but he still takes precautions.
"It's almost as if you wait with anticipation, hoping that it's never as bad as they say it will be. However, you prepare for the worst nonetheless," he said.
On average, the Bahamas archipelago gets a direct hit from a hurricane every four years, officials said.
Construction codes require homes 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 residents who can afford it.
Risks are higher in poorer communities, which typically have wooden homes and are generally in lower-lying areas.
The slow-crawling storm was predicted to take until Monday afternoon to pass over the Bahamas, and then turn sharply and skirt up the US coast, staying just off Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday and then buffeting South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis warned residents along the state's densely populated Atlantic coast: "We're not out of the woods yet."
He noted some forecast models still bring Dorian close to or even on to the Florida peninsula.
"That could produce life-threatening storm surge and hurricane force winds," Mr DeSantis said.
"That cone of uncertainty still includes a lot of areas on the east coast of Florida and even into central and north Florida, so we are staying prepared and remaining vigilant."
South Carolina governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency, mobilising state resources to prepare for potential storm effects.
President Donald Trump has already declared a state of emergency and was briefed late on Saturday about the storm.
The hurricane upended some Labour Day holiday weekend plans in the US.
Major airlines allowed travellers to change their reservations without fees, big cruise lines rerouted their ships and Cumberland Island National Seashore off Georgia closed to visitors.
Disney World and Orlando's other resorts held off announcing any closings.