The U.S. East Coast from Florida to the Carolinas was bracing for devastating winds and a life-threatening storm surge from Hurricane Dorian as the Category 3 storm wreaks havoc on the Bahamas.
Dorian still nearly stationary about 105 miles (170 kilometers) east of Florida’s West Palm Beach and will begin moving toward the northwest later this morning, the National Hurricane Center said in a 5 a.m. Eastern Time advisory. While its winds have weakened somewhat, the storm has inflicted huge damage, killing five on one island, according to Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, who called the destruction a “historic tragedy.”
Even if the U.S. mainland dodges a head-on blow as the hurricane follows a track up the east coast over the next few days, that would still bring it “dangerously close” to Florida through Wednesday, according to the NHC. It’s threatening to inundate coastal communities with rain and rising sea levels and could skirt Georgia and the Carolinas, where residents are being told to evacuate.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered residents in coastal areas to flee before Dorian arrives, according to state web sites. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said residents in his state should heed evacuation orders from local leaders.
“We know that these evacuations are inconvenient, difficult and sometimes costly,” Cooper said in a televised statement. “But we must realize the potential deadly cost of refusing to evacuate when told.”
Dare County, North Carolina, which includes much of the tourist-friendly Outer Banks, issued a mandatory evacuation for visitors starting Tuesday and for residents beginning Wednesday. Other parts of the state’s coastline were also bracing for the storm. Ocean-going commercial vessels and barges greater than 500 gross tons should make plans for departing North Carolina ports, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement early Tuesday local time.
A slow north-westward motion is expected to occur early Tuesday, and the storm’s core will continue to pound Grand Bahama Island throughout the day, according to the NHC. The hurricane will then move close to Florida’s east coast late Tuesday through Wednesday evening, very near Georgia and South Carolina coasts Wednesday night and Thursday, and near or over the North Carolina coast late Thursday.
The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning for north of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida — near Jacksonville — to Altamaha Sound, Georgia, near the popular Golden Isles area in the state.
At least one tornado is possible near the immediate east coast of Florida through Tuesday night, and that risk shifts further up the coast later in the week, according to the center. It predicted heavy rainfall as far north as Virginia through Friday.
While the current forecast keeps Dorian’s center offshore, forecasters are keeping a close eye for changes, according to Ken Graham, the hurricane center’s director. “It doesn’t take much, a little wobble, a little wiggle and you have hurricane-force winds on shore,” he said in a Facebook update.
In the meantime, Dorian continues to devastate Grand Bahama, one of the nation’s northernmost islands, and has caused widespread flooding in many of the islands of the northwest and central Bahamas, the National Emergency Management Agency said in a bulletin Monday.
Parts of the northern Bahamas are in the “midst of a historic tragedy,” Prime Minister Minnis said in a post on Twitter. Based on reports out of Abaco, one of the first islands to be hit, “the devastation is unprecedented,” he said earlier.
The damage to some of the region’s large tourist hotels will likely hit revenue in a country where tourism accounts for about half of gross domestic product, said Andrew Stanners, investment director for Aberdeen Standard Investments, which owns the nation’s dollar bonds. The Bahamas has recently taken “strident steps” to improve government finances, which leave it better placed to repair the devastation, he said.
There are also two major petroleum terminals in the Bahamas. Buckeye Partners LP, which operates a large crude and refined products terminal at Freeport, roughly 100 miles from the Florida coast, shut its facility, according to Robert Malecky, executive vice president of Buckeye GP. The terminal, which is able to handle oil supertankers, has a capacity of 26 million barrels of crude, gasoline and diesel.
Equinor ASA has a terminal in nearby South Riding Point with a storage capacity of 6.75 million barrels of crude and condensate. The facility was in the process of shutting its terminal ahead of Dorian, according to the company said.
Dorian will cause at least $25 billion of insurance losses, according to analysts at UBS Group AG, the costliest of any natural disaster since 2017. Depending on whether it hits the eastern coast of Florida in the next few days, the storm could cost as much as $40 billion, they said.
In Florida, storm surge warnings now extend up the coast into Georgia. In a briefing, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Florida utilities have assembled 17,000 personnel to help restore power quickly as needed. He said 72 nursing homes and assisted living centers along the coast have been evacuated, and hospitals were starting to evacuate as well.
Meanwhile, airlines have canceled more than 1,300 flights within, into and out of the U.S. today, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking company. Fort Lauderdale and Orlando are the two hardest hit airports, with more 90% of flights to and from the latter airport canceled.
Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, including for the Mar-a-Lago club owned by U.S. President Donald Trump, which he often uses as a “Winter White House.” While Dorian is forecast to stay offshore there will be extensive damage along the coast from storm surge, high winds and flooding rains.
–With assistance from Serene Cheong, Sharon Cho, David Baker, Will Wade, Todd Shields, Josh Wingrove, Alyza Sebenius, Michael Riley, Bill Lehane, Sheela Tobben, Jonathan Levin and Andrew Janes.