Category 5 Dorian Batters Bahamas; Florida, Southeast Coast Await Fate

By and | September 2, 2019

Sept. 2, 2019, 7:12 AM EST— Hurricane Dorian, tied as the most powerful storm to hit land anywhere in the Atlantic, battered the Bahamas inflicting colossal damage to property and infrastructure across the chain of islands.

The hurricane was packing winds with maximum sustained speeds of 165 mile-per-hour early Monday and a storm surge that could top 23 feet, potentially leaving the islands devastated for years. The fate of Florida remains uncertain as the storm churns in the ocean just 115 miles away. Dorian is expected to cause at least $25 billion in losses for insurers.

The storm ripped off roofs, overturned cars and tore down power lines in the Bahamas, the Associated Press reported. A seven-year-old boy was reported to have drowned in the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas, according to a Twitter post by Bahamas Press – the fatality could not immediately be confirmed. The storm is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) from Freeport, Grand Bahama.

“This is probably the most sad and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said while crying during a press conference at the headquarters of the National Emergency Management Agency, The Nassau Guardian reported on Sunday. “This will put us through a test that we’ve never confronted before.”

Minnis said that homes in the Bahamas are built to withstand winds as strong as 150 miles per hour and the islands have never before faced a hurricane like Dorian, according to the paper. In some places that are facing the brunt of the storm, it wasn’t possible to tell the difference between the beginning of the street and the ocean, it cited him as saying. Despite evacuation orders for those in vulnerable areas, many people hadn’t heeded the warning, he said.

“I wouldn’t want to be on the Abaco Islands, they are going to have 12 to 15 hours of hurricane force winds with only the eye as the respite,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground, an IBM business. “Everything in that eye is going to get totaled. It is going to take them years, if not a decade, to recover.”

Its maximum sustained winds were 165 mph at 5 a.m. local time, the National Hurricane Center said, describing the situation as “life-threatening.” Winds were earlier recorded at 185 mph, which tied the 1935 Labor Day hurricane, which crushed the Florida Keys, as the strongest storm ever to hit land anywhere in the Atlantic, said Maureen O’Leary, spokeswoman for the National Weather Service.

Roughly 100,000 of the Bahamas population of 370,000 live in areas that would be hit by the storm, said Kevin Peter Turnquest, the country’s deputy prime minister, adding in a response to queries that Abaco suffered “severe destruction of homes and infrastructure.” The Bahamian government was preparing orders to allow donated relief supplies to move quickly to areas that need it most, local Eyewitness News reported on its website.

Employees of the Island Root Kava Lounge board up the windows of their business as Brevard County has declared a mandatory evacuation for certain zones in preparation for Hurricane Dorian while the storm approaches from the Atlantic Ocean in Melbourne, Florida, U.S., on Sunday, September 1, 2019. Photographer: Zack Wittman/Bloomberg

While the devastation mounts in the Bahamas, the threat to Florida and the U.S. East Coast remains uncertain. A storm surge warning is in effect from Lantana, about 60 miles north of Miami, up to the Volusia/Brevard county line. A hurricane warning is in effect for the Jupiter Inlet, also up to Volusia/Brevard. While many people focus on winds, most hurricane deaths are caused by storm surge and drowning from flooding.

The hurricane will move dangerously close to Florida’s east coast tonight through Wednesday evening, according to the National Hurricane Center.

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.

Fluctuations in weather patterns across the U.S. and Atlantic mean Dorian could hit Florida or further up the coast in Georgia or the Carolinas later this week — or not make landfall at all. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, including for the Mar-a-Lago club owned by Donald Trump, which the president often uses as a “Winter White House.”

“Life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds are expected along portions of the Florida east coast through mid-week,” Lixion Avila, a senior hurricane specialist at the center wrote in an analysis. “Only a slight deviation to the left of the official forecast would bring the core of Dorian near or over the Florida east coast.”

Florida’s fate will hang on the strength of a high pressure system in the western Atlantic and how far Dorian can move west. If that system weakens, then Dorian should veer away from the coastline, which has some of the priciest properties in the U.S. If it stays strong, the catastrophic tempest will come perilously close to shore, said Ryan Truchelut, president of Weather Tiger in Tallahassee, Florida.

Its current projected turn would also bring it close to the St. Lucie nuclear power station, home to two nuclear reactors owned by Nextera Energy Inc.’s subsidiary Florida Power & Light.

–With assistance from Sharon Cho, Mark Chediak, David Baker, Will Wade, Todd Shields, Josh Wingrove, Alyza Sebenius, Michael Riley, Matthew Bristow, Tina Davis, Andrew Janes, Bill Lehane and Will Hadfield.

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