MIAMI: Hurricane Dorian unleashed “catastrophic conditions” yesterday as it hit the northern Bahamas, lashing the low-lying island chain with devastating 180 mph (285 kph) winds, the most intense in its modern history. Residents of the Abaco Islands closest to the storm were warned to “seek elevated shelter immediately,” as US forecasters predicted a towering storm surge of 18 to 23 feet.
Many Abaco islands residents were reported to have opted to ride out the monster hurricane rather than heed government warnings to evacuate.

The Nassau Guardian quoted local resident Troy Albury as saying 150 people stayed behind in Guana Cay, in the center of the Abaco islands, to face the storm’s fury. Only eight left on the last ferry out, he said. Power went out as the storm approached, a resident of Man-o-war Cay in the Abacos said.

“Catastrophic conditions occurring in the Abacos islands,” the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in a bulletin at 1500 GMT. The eye of the Category 5 hurricane was still 25 miles from the Abaco islands, but the slow-moving hurricane’s core was expected to move directly over Great Abaco, and possibly also Grand Bahama Island later yesterday and today, US forecasters said.

The NHC said Dorian had become “the strongest hurricane in modern records for the northwestern Bahamas.” NHC director Ken Graham on Facebook Live said the Bahamas would be under major hurricane conditions for 30 hours or more.

“That’s major hurricane winds, that’s storm surge of 10 and even 20 feet in some of those areas,” he said. “That’s also torrential rainfall of 15 to 20 inches, isolated 30 inches.” In Washington, US President Donald Trump warned Dorian was “a very, very powerful hurricane.”
“The original course was dead into Florida,” but it now appeared to be headed for Georgia and South Carolina, he said, adding that Dorian’s path could change again. Florida residents, meanwhile, were bracing for a potentially dangerous brush with the storm as it slowly turns north after passing the Bahamas.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for parts of the Florida coast. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for parts of Palm Beach and Martin Counties. Palm Beach is where Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort is located. In Grand Bahama, businesses were boarded up and thousands have evacuated Dorian’s predicted path.

“It feels like we are standing in a line waiting for a beating,” Yasmin Rigby, a resident of the island’s main city Freeport, said. “People are battened down awaiting the storm; some are still getting last minute items. Many are already in shelters.” According to Rigby, memories of past hurricanes were still fresh-including 2005’s historic storm Wilma when it took weeks for water, food and electricity to be back to normal.
The storm’s leisurely pace, coupled with the storm surge predictions, poses a fearful prospect for many of the islands, some barely feet above sea level.

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis has warned residents “the price you may pay for not evacuating is your life or other serious physical harm.” Still, Rigby was among the Grand Bahamians who said they intend to ride the storm out.

‘Very great danger’
Trump, who canceled a high-profile trip to Warsaw to focus on storm preparations, was due to receive an updated hurricane briefing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency yesterday.

Kevin McAleenan, acting homeland security secretary, said hurricane force winds could hit Florida, followed by a prolonged rain event, combined with a storm surge. “That’s going to be very difficult as the storm starts to move northward, mostly like, up the coast of Florida and toward Georgia and South Carolina,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
While Miami appeared likely to be largely spared, 30-year-old David Duque, picking up sandbags there on Saturday, noted “everything could changeā€¦ I know it could be a scare, but better prepare instead of doing nothing.” The Florida National Guard said roughly 2,000 service members had been mobilized, with another 2,000 poised to join them.

‘Absolute monster’
Trump has declared a federal state of emergency in Florida, authorizing US assistance to supplement state and local efforts. Following a similar state order in Florida, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency Saturday, saying, “Given the strength and unpredictability of the storm, we must prepare for every possible scenario.”

Neighboring North Carolina also declared a state of emergency, and Georgia announced a state of emergency for 12 counties. The US Coast Guard said large commercial vessels should plan to leave ports from south Florida to Savannah, Georgia, and advised pleasure craft to seek safe harbor.

Orlando International Airport was to protectively halt commercial flights at 2:00 am (0600 GMT) today, and Florida’s NASA Kennedy Space Centre said it was moving an enormous mobile rocket launcher inside to protect it. – AFP