'Catastrophic' Hurricane Dorian could linger for days after landfall in Bahamas
'It is not very often that we measure such strong winds,' forecasters said as Dorian threatened to linger for days before heading for the U.S. East Coast.
Hurricane Dorian, a slow-moving, devastating Category 5 storm, made landfall on Sunday in the northwest Bahamas, where "catastrophic effects" were expected, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm was expected to have a long life, remaining a hurricane for the next five days, and hurricane watches and warnings were issued late Sunday afternoon for parts of the Florida coast, where Dorian was expected to move "dangerously close" beginning Monday night through Tuesday night, forecasters said.
The storm made landfall on Sunday afternoon with estimated sustained surface winds of 185 mph and gusts reaching 220 mph at Elbow Cay, Abacos, in the northern Bahamas. "It is not very often that we measure such strong winds," the hurricane center said.
The winds ripped off roofs and tore down power lines as hundreds of people hunkered down in schools, churches and other shelters, according to The Associated Press.
The storm's power was second only to that of Hurricane Allen in 1980, with its 190 mph winds. It also tied with the 1935 Labor Day hurricane for the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record, the AP reported.
At 5 p.m. ET, Dorian was about 95 miles east of Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. It was moving west at just 5 mph and was expected to continue inching westward to west-northwest for the next day or two. Forecasters said it would then likely gradually turn northwest — meaning the core of the storm "will continue to pound Great Abaco this evening and move near or over Grand Bahama Island tonight and Monday."
Silbert Mills, 59, owner of the Bahamas Christian Network, told the AP that he planned to ride out the hurricane with his family in the concrete home he built 41 years ago in central Abaco.
"The winds are howling like we’ve never, ever experienced before," he said.
ZNS Bahamas radio reported that a woman and her child in central Grand Bahama called to say that they were sheltering in a closet and seeking help from police.
The hurricane shifted Saturday as forecasters said it was on course to get close to Florida but to make landfall in Georgia and the Carolinas.
Still, because of the uncertainty of the track forecast and the expectation that Dorian might keep growing, a hurricane warning was issued for Jupiter Inlet to the Volusia-Brevard county line in Florida, while a hurricane watch was issued from the Volusia-Brevard line to the Flagler-Volusia county line.
The Coast Guard assisted the Brevard County Sheriff's Office in rescuing a boater on Sunday in Sebastian Inlet State Park, according to a statement. Another person was involved and was safe, according to the release. Officials urged boaters to stay off the water.
At 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, Port Everglades and the ports of Fort Pierce, Miami and Port of Palm Beach will suspend operations because of the possibility of sustained gale force winds greater than 39 mph.
Parts of Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Brevard counties began ordering mandatory evacuations Sunday. St. Johns County said it would order an evacuation on Monday. Those evacuating in Florida included 400 animals from the South Florida Wildlife Center such as hawks, burrowing owls, Eastern screech owls, a black vulture, a red-bellied woodpecker, a gopher tortoise and a flock of black-bellied whistling ducklings.
Because Dorian was forecast to slow and turn northward, the hurricane center said life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds were still possible for parts of Florida's east coast by the middle of the week. Several counties, including Flagler, Orange and Osceola, held news conferences on Sunday to encourage people to evacuate or prepare for hurricane conditions.
"Residents should have their hurricane plan in place, know if they are in a hurricane evacuation zone and listen to advice given by local emergency officials," the hurricane center said Sunday.
Steven Strouss, a meteorologist for NBC News, cautioned that even though landfall might not occur along Florida's east coast, the hurricane would track very close with impacts including torrential and flooding rainfall, tropical-storm-force winds, dangerous storm surge and life-threatening rip currents.
"The hurricane will spin close enough to lash the southeast United States Monday through Wednesday as it churns northward up the coast," Strouss said, adding that the storm could cause major travel disruptions.
Strouss said it was paramount that people in areas that could be affected listen to local emergency official and have enough food, water and gas to last for at least a week.
"Be prepared to be without power for several days or possibly longer," he said.
The hurricane center also warned about an increasing risk of strong winds and dangerous storm surge along the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina later this week.
The Florida National Guard had more than 4,400 members prepared for response efforts, including search and rescue, communications and aviation, said Maj. Caitlin Brown, a spokeswoman.
In Georgia, Guard members were planning to assemble on Monday. In South Carolina, the Guard was preparing to mobilize to support full coastal evacuation, and in North Carolina, the Guard said its response would depend on the storm's track.
President Donald Trump said he would discuss possible evacuations Sunday in a scheduled meeting with officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.
"It seems to be one of the biggest hurricanes we've ever seen. And that's the problem," Trump told reporters on Sunday. "We don't know where it is going to hit, but we have an idea."
Trump added that while it originally looked as though Florida would get the worst of the storm, Dorian was now tracking toward Georgia and the Carolinas.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Peter Brown, who was with the president, said all four states could expect intense weather.
"The time for preparation is now," Brown added.
During a news conference with FEMA officials on Sunday, Trump said he was unsure whether he had ever heard of a Category 5 hurricane's forming.
"I knew it existed, and I've seen some Category 4s. You don't even see them that much," Trump said. "But a Category 5, I don't even know if I've heard the term other than I know it's there. That's the ultimate, and that's what we have, unfortunately."
Trump, who called off his planned trip to Poland over the weekend to oversee the response to Dorian, encouraged people to pray for the Bahamas.
As the storm barreled toward the northern Bahamas, officials were urging people to evacuate areas most at risk.
"Homes, houses, structures can be replaced," Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Saturday. "Lives cannot be replaced."
Rainfall estimates rose for the Caribbean archipelago and the coastal Carolinas.
A life-threatening storm surge will raise water levels as much as 15 to 20 feet above normal tide levels in the area, the hurricane center said. Near the coast, the surge will also be accompanied by large and destructive waves.
Twelve to 24 inches of rain, and up to 30 inches in some areas, were expected in the northwestern Bahamas. That could lead to life-threatening flash floods, the center said.
Residents boarded up homes, and officials hired boats to move people from low-lying areas to bigger islands.
The Tourism Ministry told NBC News that only certain parts of the the northwestern Bahamas had conducted evacuation procedures, and it strongly advised visitors to leave.
Strouss, the NBC News meteorologist, said that since records began in the 1850s, the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island had never been directly hit by a Category 5 storm.
Dorian now also represents the first time that there have been four years in a row with Category 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic since satellite technology has been used to track weather, Strouss said.
Hurricane Michael hit in 2018, hurricanes Maria and Irma wrought havoc in 2017, and Hurricane Matthew hit in 2016.