Hurricane Dorian kills at least 5 in Bahamas, remains 'extremely dangerous'
The deaths occurred in the Abaco Islands, which has felt the brunt of the punishing conditions that have continued to shred homes and flood low-lying islands, Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said at a news conference.
Minnis said that parts of the northern Bahamas were in the midst of a “historic tragedy” and that the focus of authorities was on search, rescue and recovery.
He said the images and videos seen by officials are heartbreaking, with many homes and businesses and other buildings completely or partially destroyed.
Dorian, one of the strongest Atlantic storms ever recorded, weakened slightly to a Category 4 storm earlier Monday with 145 mph winds but remained "extremely dangerous" in the Bahamas for a second day, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Officials in the Bahamas feared more destruction as the storm's outer bands began to brush South Florida with thunderstorms and high surf.
The Latest on Dorian:
- The storm had sustained winds of 145 mph and was 25 miles northeast of Grand Bahama Island in a "stationary" position, the hurricane center reported at 5 p.m. ET. It had been moving at 1 mph. Isolated rainfall was expected at 30 inches in some parts of the northwestern Bahamas.
- At least five people have died in the Abaco Islands, Bahamian officials say. A woman told Eyewitness News Bahamas that her 8-year-old grandson was killed in a possible drowning.
- Officials say Dorian is set to come "dangerously close" to Florida's east coast Monday night through Wednesday evening, although exactly how close is unclear and even a small deviation could change the intensity.
- Both the Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach international airports in Florida shut down their operations Monday, and Orlando's airport planned to cease all flights at 2 a.m. ET Tuesday. Amtrak also canceled some of its East Coast service.
- More than 70 nursing homes and assisted living facilities have evacuated along Florida's east coast. Many of the state's toll roads are suspended, and several ports have closed. In addition, more than 85 shelters are open statewide.
- Six counties east of Interstate 95 in Georgia were ordered toevacuate, Gov. Brian Kemp says. Parts of coastal Georgia to the Savannah River remain under storm surge watch.
Bahamian officials said they had received a "tremendous" number of calls for rescue, but weather conditions remained unsafe to respond in many cases.
Storm surges of up to 23 feet above the normal tide levels slammed parts of Grand Bahama Island, which was being "lashed incessantly" by the destructive hurricane-force winds, the hurricane center added.
Millions of people along the southeastern coast of the United States are bracing for Dorian's effects over the next few days as meteorologists warn the storm, creeping westward at just 1 mph, will eventually veer north off the coast of Florida. A lack of upper level winds has left the hurricane without a driving force, and it's unclear if and where it would run ashore over the U.S.
"We expect a more northwestward motion that's going to take the center right along the east coast of Florida, but close enough that we are expecting to see hurricane conditions along the coast in that hurricane warning area," Michael Brennan, branch chief of the National Hurricane Center's specialist unit, said on MSNBC.
The hurricane center said in a forecast discussion Monday evening that although the center of Dorian is forecast to move parallel to the Florida coast, "only a small deviation of the track toward the west would bring the core of the hurricane onshore."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday morning that he was continuing to monitor the storm as it stalled more than 100 miles east of West Palm Beach, and that residents from Palm Beach County north toward Jacksonville along the state's east coast were on warning to evacuate.
Dorian made landfall on Great Abaco Island, a neighboring island to Grand Bahama, Sunday afternoon as a Category 5 storm. The hurricane center said its maximum sustained winds were 185 mph — an Atlantic hurricane record matched only by the Labor Day 1935 storm that struck the Florida Keys.
Although sustained wind speeds decreased Monday after topping out at 165 mph, the storm's eye was parked over the Grand Bahama Island and the hurricane center said the situation remained "life-threatening."
"Residents on Grand Bahama Island should not leave their shelter when the eye passes over," it warned.
Information began emerging from the affected islands, with Bahamas Power and Light saying there is a total blackout in New Providence, the archipelago's most populous island, the Associated Press reported.
"The reports out of Abaco (island) as everyone knows," company spokesman Quincy Parker told ZNS Bahamas radio station, "were not good."
Most people went to shelters as the storm approached, with hotels shutting down and residents boarding up their homes.
Videos and photos shot by residents of Great Abaco Island and obtained by NBC News showed relentless gusts of wind toppling trees, flipped cars, damaged phone towers and homes almost completely submerged in water.
A video shot in Abaco showed dozens of people waiting out the storm, huddled together in the only apartment left relatively intact, with a roof that’s caving and walls leaking.
"This is the only house left standing in the neighborhood and everyone is here," a woman in the video said as the storm raged outside. "This is the only safe place we can be right now."
Another video posted by an unnamed Bahamian showed a family sheltering in a bathroom as a woman prayed for their safety. And in a separate video, an observer called a scene of snapped trees, twisted metal and crumpled cars "complete devastation."
"Based on reports out of Abaco, the devastation is unprecedented," Minnis, the Bahamas prime minister, tweeted earlier Monday. "Winds have decreased to 165MPH but Dorian remains an extremely dangerous storm. Our focus right now is rescue, recovery and prayer."
Dionisio D'Aguilar, Bahamas minister of tourism and aviation, told "Today" on Monday that the biggest risk was loss of life.
"There is no doubt about it: We are frightened to death at the potential consequences of such a severe storm," he said.
The Bahamas ministry of tourism said Sunday that it strongly advised visitors on the islands in the path of the storm to leave before it hit.
It said 80 tourists remained on the affected islands as of Saturday evening.
President Donald Trump voiced his support for the Bahamians tweeting Sunday: "Pray for the people in the Bahamas. Being hit like never before, Category 5."
The hurricane center said Monday that Dorian will make a gradual turn toward the northwest and north following its slow westward motion during the next day or so.
Life-threatening storm surges and dangerous hurricane-force winds were expected along portions of the Florida east coast through mid-week, and storm surge and hurricane warnings were in effect.
Storm surge warnings were extended Monday evening to include Altamaha Sound on the southern Georgia coast, and storm surge and hurricane watches were extended to the South Santee River in South Carolina, the hurricane center said.
NBC News meteorologist Don Tsouhnikas said the warnings erred on the side of caution as it would take time to evacuate those areas if necessary.
"If this storm track pans out, the center [of the hurricane] will be 40 to 80 miles off the east coast of Florida as it begins to change its path," Tsouhnikas said. "That would spare Florida and avoid potentially severe damage."
But he said a wobble to the left toward Florida's coast would bring a more significant impact, stronger winds and storm surge.
On Sunday, the governors of South Carolina and Georgia ordered at least 1 million people to evacuate their coasts beginning Monday.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday declared a state of emergency in advance of the hurricane’s impacts there. President Trump on Monday approved an emergency declaration for Georgia, the White House said.
Authorities in Florida ordered mandatory evacuations in some vulnerable coastal areas. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned residents Sunday to make sure they are ready for possible impacts expected by the middle of the week.