Hurricane Dorian has been downgraded to a Category 3 storm, the National Hurricane Center announced in its 2 a.m. advisory.
Maximum sustained wind speeds in the storm were reported to have dropped to 120 mph (195 kph)—down from a maximum of 185 mph when it was a Category 5 storm. Although downgraded and remaining stationary over the Bahamas, the hurricane is still a threat to residents on the east coast of the United States, and warnings and evacuations remain in place.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina were ordered to evacuate before the storm rolls up the Eastern Seaboard. It brings the possibility of life-threatening storm-surge flooding—even if the storm’s heart stays offshore, as forecast.
Several large airports announced closures, with many of Monday’s and Tuesday’s flights canceled. Forecast models predict that Dorian could now inch slightly further east. The extent to which this will affect the risk of hurricane-force winds at the edges of the storm is not clear.
Residents are advised to heed all warnings in place as dangerous, potentially life-threatening conditions remain with a Category 3 system. The eye of the hurricane is currently located 30 miles northeast of Freeport in Grand Bahama, 100 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida.
Meanwhile, the Bahamas continue to be pummeled, the advisory said. Dorian could start to move away from the Bahamas on Tuesday.
The Center said the forecast track would carry the storm “dangerously close to the Florida east coast late Tuesday through Wednesday evening. It will then move dangerously close to the Georgia and South Carolina coasts on Wednesday night and Thursday.”
While it was expected to stay offshore, meteorologist Daniel Brown cautioned that “only a small deviation” could draw the storm’s dangerous core toward land.
At a Standstill
Hurricane Dorian came to a catastrophic daylong halt over the northwest Bahamas, flooding the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama with walls of water that lapped into the second floors of buildings. People were trapped in attics and drowned. The Grand Bahama airport is under 6 feet of water.
At least five people died, and 21 injured people were airlifted to the capital by the U.S. Coast Guard, Bahamas officials said. “We are in the midst of a historic tragedy,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said. “The devastation is unprecedented and extensive.”
Winds and rain continued pounding the northwest islands late Monday night into early Tuesday, sending people fleeing the floodwaters, from one shelter to another. “This is unprecedented,” said Jeff Masters, meteorology director at Weather Underground. “We’ve never had a Category 5 stall for so long in the Atlantic hurricane record.”
The U.S. Coast Guard airlifted at least 21 injured people from Abaco Island. Dorian hit there on Sunday with sustained winds of 185 mph (295 kph) and gusts up to 220 mph (355 kph), a strength matched only by the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 before storms were named.
Scientists say storms are generally more powerful and wetter these past years. The only recorded storm more mighty than Dorian was Hurricane Allen in 1980, with 190 mph (305 kph) winds, though it did not make landfall at that strength.
Abaco and Grand Bahama, neither much more than 40 feet (12 meters) above sea level at their highest points, are home to some 70,000 people. Bahamian officials said they received a “tremendous” number of calls from people in flooded homes. One radio station said it received more than 2,000 distress messages. They included reports of a 5-month-old baby stranded on a roof and a woman with six grandchildren who cut a hole in a roof to escape rising floodwaters. At least two designated storm shelters flooded.
Dorian killed one person in Puerto Rico, at the start of its path through the Caribbean.
Minnis said many homes and buildings were severely damaged or destroyed, but it was too early to tell how much the rebuilding effort would cost. Choppy brown floodwaters reached roofs and the tops of palm trees on Monday.
Parliament member Iram Lewis told The Associated Press his greatest fear was that waters would keep rising overnight. He was concerned that stranded people would lose contact with officials as cellphone batteries died.
“It is scary,” he said, adding that Grand Bahama’s airport was 6 feet (almost 2 meters) underwater. He said people were moving from shelter to shelter as floodwaters kept surging. “We’re definitely in dire straits.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.