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Dorian strikes Bahamas with record fury as Category 5 storm

  • 1 Sep 2019

Hurricane Dorian slammed into the northern Bahamas as a monster Category 5 storm on Sunday.

A man stands on a store's roof as he works to prepare it for the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in Freeport on Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Sunday, September 1, 2019. ( AP )

Hurricane Dorian struck the northern Bahamas on Sunday as a catastrophic Category 5 storm, its record 185 mph (295 kph) winds ripping off roofs, overturning cars and tearing down power lines as hundreds hunkered in schools, churches and shelters.

Dorian slammed into Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands at 12:40 pm, and then made a second landfall near Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island at 2 pm, after authorities made last-minute pleas for those in low-lying areas to evacuate.

"It's devastating," said Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Bahamas' Ministry of Tourism and Aviation.

"There has been huge damage to property and infrastructure. Luckily, no loss of life reported."

With its maximum sustained winds of 185 mph (295 kph) and gusts up to 220 mph (354 kph), Dorian tied the record for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever to come ashore, equaling the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, before the storms were named.

Millions from Florida to the Carolinas kept a wary eye on the slow-moving Dorian amid indications it would veer sharply northeastward after passing the Bahamas and track up the US Southeast seaboard. But authorities warned that even if its core did not make US landfall, the potent storm would likely hammer the coast with powerful winds and heavy surf.

"Catastrophic conditions" were reported in The Abaco Islands, with a storm surge of 18-23 feet, and Dorian was expected to cross Grand Bahama later in the day "with all its fury," the center said. The hurricane was moving to the west at 7 mph (11 kph).

In the northern stretches of the archipelago, hotels closed, residents boarded up homes and officials hired boats to move people to bigger islands.

'Dangerous storm'

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 Saturday 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 (240 kilometres) from Florida's Atlantic coast. Most people came from Sweeting Cay, a fishing town of a few hundred people about 5 feet (1.5 meters) 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 4 feet (1 meter) 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 don't materialize, 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.

Early Sunday, Dorian was centred around 70 miles (110 kilometres) east of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas and 255 miles (410 kilometres) east of West Palm Beach as it crept westward at 8 mph (13 kph).

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.

'We're not out of the woods yet'

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned residents along that 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 onto the Florida peninsula.

"That could produce life-threatening storm surge and hurricane force winds," 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."

In Miami, Carmen Segura said she had installed hurricane shutters at her house, bought extra gas and secured water and food for at least three days. She felt well prepared and less worried, given the latest forecasts, but still was uneasy given the storm's unpredictability.

"Part of me still feels like: So, now what?" Segura said.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency, mobilising state resources to prepare for potential storm effects. President Donald Trump already declared a state of emergency and was brief late 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.

Sherry Atkinson, who manages a hotel on North Carolina's Outer Banks, said the hurricane wasn't spoiling holiday vacations for guests.

"So far, there hasn't even been a snippet of conversation about evacuations," she said.

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