As published on huffingtonpost.co.uk, Sunday September 1, 2019.
A powerful hurricane has become ‘the strongest hurricane in modern records’ to hit the Northwestern Bahamas, experts have said.
Hurricane Dorian is expected to make landfall imminently, with ‘catastrophic conditions occurring in the Abacos Islands’, according to The National Hurricane Centre in Miami.
The centre said Hurricane Dorian’s maximum sustained winds have increased by 15mph, with expected speeds now up to 175mph. It is currently moving west at 8mph.
“Devastating hurricane conditions” are expected in the Abaco Islands early local time today and across Grand Bahama island in the following hours, the centre said.
Government spokesman Kevin Harris said Dorian was expected to impact some 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes.
Millions of those on the US mainland from Florida to the Carolinas have been closely following Dorian’s trajectory, amid forecasts that the storm could veer in a north-easterly direction.
President Donald Trump, who cancelled his planned visit to Poland to commemorate the outbreak of WWII in order to monitor the storm, has already declared a state of emergency.
Authorities have warned those close to the hurricane’s path that even if its core did not make US landfall and remained offshore, coastal areas were likely to be battered by 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.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis warned that Dorian is a “dangerous storm” and said any “who do not evacuate are placing themselves in extreme danger and can expect a catastrophic consequence”.
Small skiffs 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 150 miles from Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Most people came from Sweeting Cay, a fishing town of a few hundred people approximately five feet 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 4 feet of rain, unleash devastating winds and whip up a dangerous storm surge, said private meteorologist Ryan Maue, seconding some of the most reliable computer models.
Authorities closed airports for the Abaco Islands, Grand Bahama and Bimini, but Lynden Pindling International Airport at the capital of 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 materialise, 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 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.
The slow-crawling storm was predicted to take until Monday afternoon to pass over the Bahamas, and then turn sharply and skirt up the US coast, staying just off Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday and then buffeting South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis warned residents along the state’s densely populated Atlantic coast: “We’re not out of the woods yet.”
He noted some forecast models still bring Dorian close to or even on to the Florida peninsula.
“That could produce life-threatening storm surge and hurricane force winds,” Mr DeSantis said.
“That cone of uncertainty still includes a lot of areas on the east coast of Florida and even into central and north Florida, so we are staying prepared and remaining vigilant.”
South Carolina governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency, mobilising state resources to prepare for potential storm effects.