Hurricane Dorian weakened slightly on Sept. 2 but was still “extremely dangerous,” with maximum sustained winds nearing 145 mph and packing even stronger gusts, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) announced.
Dorian was downgraded to a Category 4 storm from Category 5, according to the NHC, which noted that despite a “gradual weakening” forecast, the storm is “expected to remain a powerful hurricane during the next couple of days.”
Strong winds and high surf were already being reported along Florida’s east coast as the hurricane tracked within 105 miles east of West Palm Beach, the NHC said. The storm became nearly stationary on Sept. 2. But according to a 5 p.m. advisory showing projected movement, Dorian will move “dangerously close” to Florida late Sept. 3 and then along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts on Sept. 4 and 5.
Dorian hovered over the Bahamas on Sept. 2, shredding roofs, hurling cars, and even forcing rescue crews to take shelter until the onslaught passed. Forecasters said the storm would creep closer to the U.S. coast, where more than a million people have been ordered to evacuate.
A category 4 rating, the second-highest on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, indicates “catastrophic damage will occur,” according to the NHC, which can include well-built homes sustaining “severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls.”
The Bahamas Press reported on Twitter that a boy had drowned in the northern Bahamas, the first recorded fatality from the storm. Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said on Sept. 2 that at least five people have died in the Abaco Islands due to Dorian.
As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.
“Pray for the people in the Bahamas. Being hit like never before,” President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter on Sept. 1, when the hurricane was still at a category 5 level.
Hurricane Dorian is tied with the 1935 Labor Day hurricane as the strongest Atlantic storm to make landfall. The U.S. National Hurricane Center noted that the storm’s 185 mph maximum sustained winds put the storm at a tie for the second-highest sustained wind speed among all hurricanes in the Atlantic.
While forecasters expect Dorian to stay just offshore, meteorologist Daniel Brown cautioned that “only a small deviation” could draw the storm’s dangerous core toward land.
By late morning, the water had already reached rooftops and submerged palm trees in Grand Bahama. One woman filmed floodwaters lapping at the stairs of her home’s second floor.
The storm will raise water levels by as much as 18 to 23 feet in areas of Grand Bahama and be accompanied by large and destructive waves, the NHC said. It warned of the risk of “extreme destruction on the island.”
Residents posted images online of water rising up the side of their houses. Grand Bahama International Airport in Freeport was under five feet of water, the Bahamas Press reported on Sept 2.
Trump approved emergency declarations for Georgia and South Carolina, according to multiple Sept. 2 White House announcements. The declarations authorize the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief efforts.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an order Sept. 1 for the mandatory evacuation of his state’s entire coast. The order, which covers about 830,000 people, was to take effect at noon on Sept. 2, at which point state troopers were to make all lanes on major coastal highways one-way heading inland.
“We can’t make everybody happy, but we believe we can keep everyone alive,” McMaster said.
A few hours later, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ordered mandatory evacuations along that state’s coast, also starting at midday Sept 2.
Authorities in Florida ordered mandatory evacuations in some vulnerable coastal areas. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned his state that it could see heavy rain, winds, and floods later in the week.
Dorian first made landfall Sept. 1 in the Bahamas at Elbow Cay in Abaco Island, then made a second landfall near Marsh Harbour. A storm surge was reported at 18 to 23 feet.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Sept. 1 that he was in “constant communication” with Trump as well as FEMA officials and governors of neighboring states in the path of Dorian.
“The President has assured all of us that we have his full support,” he wrote on Twitter. “We are in this together.”
DeSantis on Twitter also thanked Florida Power & Light [FPL] for assembling the “largest pre-storm restoration workforce” in the company’s history, with “approximately 17,000 folks ready to respond, including FPL employees and workers from other utilities and electrical contracting companies.”
He also urged coastal residents to heed evacuation orders.
“Get out now while there’s time and while you have fuel available,” he said in a news conference from the state’s emergency operations center in Tallahassee.
Trump, joined with other U.S. officials, was at the FEMA headquarters on Sept. 1 to receive a briefing on Hurricane Dorian. He said that he and his staff were receiving “frequent updates to ensure that we are fully prepared.”
“I don’t think [we’ve] ever seen anything like this hurricane,” Trump said. “Its effects will be felt hundreds of miles or more from the eye of the storm and long before it potentially makes landfall. … We expect that much of the Eastern Seaboard will be ultimately impacted and some of it very, very severely.
“It’s been moving very slowly. It’s a bad thing, not a good thing. The slower it moves, the bigger it is, and the bigger it gets. But we want to minimize any unnecessary risks to the public and our brave first responders.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report