Hurricane Dorian is expected to become a potentially catastrophic Category 4 and to approach the northwestern Bahamas on Saturday
Forecasters say "extremely dangerous" Hurricane Dorian is edging closer to the northwestern Bahamas.
The US National Hurricane Center says Dorian remains a powerful Category 3 storm with top sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph). At 5 pm EDT, Dorian was centred about 420 miles (675 kph) east of the northwestern Bahamas. That's also about 595 miles (960 kilometres) east of West Palm, Beach, Florida.
The government of the Bahamas has issued a hurricane warning for several islands in the northwest region of that island chain.
Hurricane conditions are expected in the hurricane warning area of the northwestern Bahamas by Sunday
An increasingly alarming Hurricane Dorian menaced a corridor of some 10 million people — and put Walt Disney World and President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in the crosshairs — as it steamed toward Florida on Friday with the potential to become the most powerful storm to hit the state's east coast in nearly 30 years.
The National Hurricane Center's projected track showed Dorian hitting around Palm Beach County, where Mar-a-Lago is situated, then moving inland over the Orlando area. But because of the difficulty of predicting a storm's course this far out, forecasters cautioned that practically all of Florida, including Miami and Fort Lauderdale, could be in harm's way.
They warned, too, that Dorian was moving more slowly, which could subject the state to a prolonged and destructive pummeling from wind, storm surge and heavy rain.
"This is big and is growing and it still has some time to get worse," Julio Vasquez said at a Miami fast-food joint next to a gas station that had run out of fuel.
"No one knows what can really happen. This is serious."
Labour Day Flights
Officials at Florida's largest airport say it will halt commercial flight operations early Monday in anticipation of Hurricane Dorian.
Officials at Orlando International Airport said in a statement Friday that aeroplanes will stop flying in and out of the airport starting at 2 a.m. Monday. Airport officials say that will give Orlando International Airport's 25,000 workers enough time to secure their homes and be with their families.
The airport had 47.7 million passengers travel through it last year.
Hurricane Dorian strengthened into a major hurricane on Friday as it churned across the Atlantic Ocean on a collision course with the east coast of the US state of Florida.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Dorian, which is expected to make landfall in Florida on Monday or Tuesday, had gone from a Category 2 to a Category 3 storm on the five-level scale.
As of 2:00 pm (1800 GMT), Dorian has become an "extremely dangerous hurricane" packing maximum winds of 115 miles (185 kilometres) per hour, the NHC said, and it is projected to intensify even further.
Dorian was moving in a northwest direction at 10 mph (17 kph), the NHC said.
It said hurricane conditions were expected in the northwestern Bahamas by Sunday and the islands should prepare for a life-threatening storm surge that could raise water levels by as much as 10 to 15 feet (three to 4.5 meters) above normal tide levels.
Heavy rainfall could cause flash floods, the NHC warned.
TRT World's Sally Ayhan reports.
Florida residents were stocking up on food, water and other supplies on Friday and battening down their homes to ride out the storm while others were preparing to evacuate.
"If it makes landfall as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, that's a big deal," said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.
"A lot of people are going to be affected. A lot of insurance claims."
Trump cancels trip
President Donald Trump cancelled his weekend trip to Poland and declared Florida is "going to be totally ready."
With the storm's track still unclear, no immediate mass evacuations were ordered.
Georgia's governor has declared a state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Dorian for 12 counties nearest the state's coastline.
Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed an executive order on Thursday that frees up state resources for emergency preparations and response. It also prohibits price gouging for goods and services such as gasoline.
The National Hurricane Center predicts Dorian will come ashore during the Labor Day weekend as a powerful Category 4 hurricane. While the current forecast track predicts landfall in Florida, forecasters haven't ruled out a turn toward southeast Georgia.
Kemp's emergency declaration covers all 160 kilometres (100 miles) of the Georgia coast, an area that includes Savannah, as well as several neighbouring counties to the west.
Along Florida's east coast, local governments began distributing sandbags, shoppers rushed to stock up on food, plywood and other emergency supplies at supermarkets and hardware stores, and motorists topped off their tanks and filled gasoline cans. Some fuel shortages were reported in the Cape Canaveral area.
Florida's largest power company says it has secured about 13,000 employees and additional personnel to work to restore powerlines and equipment damaged by Hurricane Dorian.
Josefine Larrauri, a retired translator, went to a Publix supermarket in Miami only to find empty shelves in the water section and store employees unsure of when more cases would arrive.
"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?"
Tiffany Miranda of Miami Springs waited well over 30 minutes in line at BJ's Wholesale Club in Hialeah to buy hurricane supplies. Some 50 vehicles were bumper-to-bumper, waiting to fill up at the store's 12 gas pumps.
"You never know with these hurricanes. It could be good, it could be bad. You just have to be prepared," she said.
As of Thursday evening, Dorian was centred about 535 kilometres (330 miles) east of the Bahamas, its winds blowing at 140 kph (85 mph) as it moved northwest at 20 kph (13 mph).
It is expected to pick up steam as it pushes out into warm waters with favourable winds, the University of Miami's McNoldy said, adding, "Starting tomorrow, it really has no obstacles left in its way."
The National Hurricane Center's projected track had the storm blowing ashore midway along the Florida peninsula, southeast of Orlando and well north of Miami or Fort Lauderdale. But because of the difficulty of predicting its course this far ahead, the "cone of uncertainty" covered nearly the entire state.
Forecasters said coastal areas of the Southeast could get five to 10 inches of rain, with 15 inches in some places, triggering life-threatening flash floods.
Also imperilled were the Bahamas, with Dorian's expected track running just to the north of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.
Jeff Byard, an associate administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warned that Dorian is likely to "create a lot of havoc with infrastructure, power and roads," but gave assurances FEMA is prepared to handle it, even though the Trump administration is shifting hundreds of millions of dollars from FEMA and other agencies to deal with immigration at the Mexican border.
"This is going to be a big storm. We're prepared for a big response," Byard said.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency, clearing the way to bring in more fuel and call out the National Guard if necessary, and Georgia's governor followed suit.
Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian began rerouting their cruise ships. Major airlines began allowing travellers to change their reservations without a fee.
At the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, NASA decided to move indoors the mobile launch platform for its new mega-rocket under development.
A Rolling Stones concert on Saturday at the Hard Rock Stadium near Miami was moved up to Friday night.
The hurricane season typically peaks between mid-August and late October. One of the most powerful storms ever to hit the US was on Labor Day 1935. The unnamed Category 5 hurricane crashed ashore along Florida's Gulf Coast on September 2. It was blamed for over 400 deaths.
Dorian rolled through the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a Category 1 hurricane on Wednesday.
The initial blow did not appear to be as bad as expected in Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria two years ago. Blue tarps cover some 30,000 homes, and the electrical grid is in fragile condition.
But the tail end of the storm unleashed heavy flooding along the eastern and southern coasts of Puerto Rico. Cars, homes and gravestones in the coastal town of Humacao became halfway submerged after a river burst its banks.
Police said an 80-year-old man in the town of Bayamon died after he fell trying to climb to his roof to clear it of debris ahead of the storm.
Dorian caused an island-wide blackout in St Thomas and St John in the US Virgin Islands and scattered outages in St Croix, government spokesman Richard Motta said.
No serious damage was reported in the British Virgin Islands, where Governor Augustus Jaspert said crews were already clearing roads and inspecting infrastructure by late Wednesday afternoon.