© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

5 Dead As Slow-Moving Dorian Batters The Bahamas, Tracks Toward U.S.

Strong winds seen from the balcony of a hotel in Freeport, Grand Bahama, where Hurricane Dorian hovered most of Monday, pummeling the islands with a fearsome Category 4 assault.
Ramon Espinosa
Strong winds seen from the balcony of a hotel in Freeport, Grand Bahama, where Hurricane Dorian hovered most of Monday, pummeling the islands with a fearsome Category 4 assault.

Updated at 2:15 a.m. ET Tuesday

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis says at least five people have died in the Abaco Islands, where Hurricane Dorian made landfall Sunday as "the strongest hurricane in modern records" to hit the archipelago.

Minnis described the hurricane as a "historic tragedy" that's brought "unprecedented and expensive" devastation to Abaco.

"There are many difficult days, weeks, and months ahead of us as a people and as a country," the prime minister said. "We must stay united as a people to bring immediate assistance, to bring hope, to bring recovery and to rebuild lives."

Dorian has weakened to a Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph, according to the latest National Hurricane Center advisory. The storm is now "stationary" and "continues to pummel Grand Bahama Island."

That is little comfort to those enduring the massive storm, given its unyielding creep west at 1 mph most of Monday, a pace slower than most people walk. A Category 3 storm is still defined as a "major" hurricane.

Dorian's maximum sustained winds had been near 165 mph, according to an earlier advisory.

The Coast Guard said in a news release that it had medevaced 19 people "ranging in age from children to the elderly" from Abaco's Marsh Harbour Clinic to the Bahamas-based Nassau International Airport on Monday.

The Coast Guard said it plans to resume its search for people in need of evacuation across the Bahamas early Tuesday.

Even though the storm has weakened some, officials warn those in its current path not venture outside because "winds will suddenly increase after the eye passes."

The National Hurricane Center is predicting "life-threatening" storm surge that will lift tides as high as 12 feet to 18 feet above normal levels in areas on Grand Bahama Island, where the storm spent most of the day Monday, as projected.

Earlier in the day storm surge was predicted to be as high as 23 feet above normal tide levels.

The National Hurricane Center has also extended the hurricane and storm warnings farther up the U.S. east coast.

Uprooted trees, fallen power lines and the debris from damaged houses scatter on a road as Hurricane Dorian sweeps through Marsh Harbour, Bahamas.
Ramond A. King / Reuters
Uprooted trees, fallen power lines and the debris from damaged houses scatter on a road as Hurricane Dorian sweeps through Marsh Harbour, Bahamas.

On Monday evening Virginia joined Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina in declaring a state of emergency ahead of Dorian. In a statement Virginia's Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said the southeastern part of the state could begin to feel the effects of the storm by Thursday.

Before that however, officials expected Dorian to "move dangerously close" to the east coast of Florida later Monday night through Wednesday evening. From there, Dorian is predicted to shift northward, inching perilously near the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina on Wednesday night into Thursday.

Earlier Monday, the NHC urged Eastern Seaboard residents from Florida's east coast all the way up to North Carolina's Outer Banks to monitor the storm closely.

For now, much of the attention has been focused on the Bahamas, where updates have been difficult to obtain as the storm pounds the islands.

One Twitter user posted a video of murky, brown water rising inside of a home, just inches from a window ledge. The video also captures a tree whipping violently in the wind as water outside sloshes against the same window.

A sailing club in Hope Town, Abaco, has been with eyewitness information and images, largely from local sources, that detail some of the devastation around the islands.

Speaking from an emergency call center in the city of Freeport, Don Cornish, the disaster manager for Grand Bahama said the storm sounds "like a freight train is passing," adding that there is flying debris and intensifying rain.

Hurricane Dorian is now a Category 4 storm, with wind since since it made landfall on Sunday the Abaco Islands.
/ NOAA satellite handout via AP
NOAA satellite handout via AP
Hurricane Dorian is now a Category 4 storm, with wind since since it made landfall on Sunday the Abaco Islands.

"We're getting a lot of frantic people calling in about flooding issues, and they're very concerned because of the storm surge, how it's affecting their homes," Cornish told Morning Edition host Rachel Martin on Monday.

Cornish says the emergency center has received reports about people trying to get out in these conditions because of the level of water in their homes.

He says he expects this hurricane will "disrupt very much the quality of life" for many on the island.

A Twitter account for Bahamas Press reports that some residents on the island were experiencing a 15-hour "power disconnect" while others report widespread flooding. In another post, Bahamas Press tweeted a distress call about rising water levels:

"I know nobody could move in Freeport but please if yall could get a boat or somethiing to churchill drive we will appreciate it. My brother, his girl and their two small boys are stuck in the roof of their home ..."

Although the NHC is forecasting "gradual weakening," Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane for the next couple of days.

NPR's Greg Allen, based in Miami, tells NPR's Newscastthat it's not just Florida residents who are keeping a close watch on Dorian.

"Even if it stays offshore, it's likely to bring high winds and flooding to some parts of the southeast, from Florida to the Carolinas," Allen said. "Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for mobile homes and beach side communities along Florida's Atlantic Coast."

The White House had already approved a similar emergency declaration for Florida, late last week. President Trump also approved emergency declarations for Georgia and South Carolina, according to a White House statement released on Monday.

That White House announcement came hours before a mandatory evacuation went into effect for several counties in Georgia east of Interstate 95.

The mandatory evacuations are in effect for Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Glynn, Liberty and McIntosh counties beginning Monday at noon.

In a tweet, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, urged residents to "stay vigilant and be safe."

At a mid-day press conference, Kemp added: "Hurricane Dorian remains a "significant threat" to Georgia, a point he says emergency officials throughout the state "can't stress enough."

He also issued a dire warning to Georgia residents who choose to remain in mandatory evacuation areas:

"Given the risk of strong winds and potential flooding in these areas, if you decide not to evacuate, I want to be clear, you will be on your own if first responders are unable to reach you," Kemp said.

At a separate briefing Monday, Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said he had been in touch with President Trump. He said the president is "fully engaged" and promised to provide resources the state needs to weather Dorian.

DeSantis says the storm has "basically stalled out" a little more than 100 miles east of the Florida city of West Palm Beach, a situation he admits is "frustrating" to many Floridians.

"This has been frustrating, I know, for a lot of people because this seems like we've been talking about this for a long time," DeSantis said. "Bet we are in a situation where the storm is stalling very close to our coast. It is going to make a movement. And the movement that it makes is going to have a lot of impact on Floridians."

He said more than 17,000 crew members with Florida Power and Light are on standby throughout the state to restore power should the storm knock it out.

A hurricane watch is in effect for Florida from north of Deerfield Beach to the Jupiter Inlet, and from Florida's North Vedra Beach to the South Santee River in South Carolina.

The hurricane also is adding chaos to already-hectic Labor Day travel. According to Flight Aware, an airline tracking website, more than 1,400 flights into or out of the United States have been canceled so far Monday.

Airports with the most cancellations, according the site, include Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, as well as those in the Florida cities of Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Palm Beach and Miami.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.