A dangerous Hurricane Dorian early yesterday closed in on the northern Bahamas, threatening to batter islands with 240kph winds, pounding waves and torrential rain as people hunkered down in schools, churches and other shelters.
Meanwhile, in the US, millions from Florida to the Carolinas kept a wary eye on Dorian amid indications it would veer sharply northeastward after passing the Bahamas and track up the US southeast seaboard.
However, authorities said that even if its core did not make US landfall and stayed offshore, the potent Category 4 storm would likely hammer US coastal areas with powerful winds and heavy surf.
In the northern stretches of the Bahamas archipelago, hotels closed, residents boarded up homes and officials hired boats to move people from low-lying areas to bigger islands as Dorian approached.
Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said that Dorian is a “dangerous storm,” adding that anyone “who do not evacuate are placing themselves in extreme danger and can expect a catastrophic consequence.”
Small skiffs on Saturday 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 240km from Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Most people came from Sweeting Cay, a fishing town of a few hundred people about 1.5m 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 1m of rain, unleash devastating winds and whip up a dangerous storm surge, private meteorologist Ryan Maue said, seconding some of the most reliable computer models.
Bahamian government spokesman Kevin Harris said Dorian was expected to affect about 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes.
Authorities closed airports for the Abaco Islands, Grand Bahama and Bimini, but Lynden Pindling International Airport in the capital, 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 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 have 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 yesterday, Dorian was centered about 150km east of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas as it crept westward at 13kph.
The slow-crawling storm was predicted to take until this afternoon to pass over the Bahamas, and then turn sharply and skirt up the US coast, staying just off Florida and Georgia tomorrow and Wednesday, and then buffeting South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned residents along that state’s densely populated Atlantic coast, saying: “We’re not out of the woods yet.”
He said some forecast models still bring Dorian close to or even onto the Florida Peninsula.
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