Hurricane Dorian, which has gained fearsome new muscle as an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 storm, bore down on the northern Bahamas on Saturday, before heading near Florida and then skirting along or off the US Southeast seacoast. As the calamity results into howling winds, surging seas and a threat of torrential rains, authorities have started some evacuations and hotel closures to avoid or lower untoward incidents. In the Bahamas, tourists were sent to government shelters in schools, churches and other buildings offering protection from the storm while residents were evacuating.
Forecasters expected Dorian, packing 150 mph (240 kph) winds, to hit some Bahamian islands on Sunday and will further power towards Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, causing a potentially deadly flooding. However, the fierce category 4 storm may spare the US a direct hit. Over two or three days, the 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 and some of the most reliable computer models.
Meanwhile, Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis has issued a warning about the "dangerous storm," saying that people "who do not evacuate are placing themselves in extreme danger and can expect a catastrophic consequence." Government spokesman Kevin Harris told The Associated Press that the hurricane was expected to affect some 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes. He said authorities had closed airports in The Abaco Islands, Grand Bahama and Bimini, but Lynden Pindling International Airport in the capital of Nassau would remain open.
Small skiffs rented by authorities ran back and forth between outlying fishing communities and McLean's Town, a settlement of a few dozen homes on the eastern end of Grand Bahama island, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) from Florida's Atlantic coast. Most were coming from Sweeting Cay, a fishing town of a few hundred people that is about 5 feet (1.5 meters) above sea level and was expected to be left completely underwater.
A few fishermen planned to stay, which could put them in extreme danger. "Hoping for the best, that the storm passes, and everybody is safe until we return home," fisherman Tyrone Mitchell said. Jeffrey Allen, who lives in Freeport on Grand Bahama, said he has learned after several storms that sometimes predictions don't materialize, but it's wise to take precautions.
The storm-prone Bahamas archipelago on average takes a direct hit from a hurricane every four years, officials say. 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. Poorer communities typically have wooden homes and are generally lower lying, placing them at tremendous risk.
After walloping the northern Bahamas, Dorian was expected to dance up the U.S. Southeast coast, staying just off the shores of Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday before skirting South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency Saturday, mobilizing state resources to prepare for potential storm effects. President Donald Trump already declared a state of emergency.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami stressed that Dorian could still hit Florida, where millions of people have been in the storm's changing potential path. But after days of predictions that put the state in the center of expected landfalls, the hurricane's projected turn northeast was significant.
Carmen Segura said she had installed hurricane shutters at her house in Miami, 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 was still uneasy given the storm's unpredictability.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned residents along the state's Atlantic coast, "We're not out of the woods yet." He said he spoke with Trump, who pledged any help Florida needs. Some counties in Florida told residents of barrier islands, mobile homes and low-lying areas to be ready to flee in the coming days.
The storm upended some Labor Day weekend plans: Major airlines allowed travelers to change their reservations without fees, big cruise lines began rerouting 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.
Early Saturday evening, Dorian was centered about 155 miles (245 kilometers) east of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas and 335 miles (540 kilometers) east of West Palm Beach as it moved westward at 8 mph (13 kph).
A portion of Florida's east coast was placed under a tropical storm watch Saturday, with winds of 39 to 73 mph (63 to 118 kph) possible within two days. Some islands in the Bahamas remained under a hurricane warning, with winds of 74 mph (119 kph) or greater expected. "We ask for God's guidance and for God to assist us through this," the prime minister said.