(NEW YORK) — Hurricane Dorian is looming dangerously close to Florida Wednesday morning, lashing the Sunshine State with heavy rain and gusty winds as it moves north, parallel to the coastline.
Dorian has weakened to a Category 2, but forecasters warn the slow-moving storm still poses a major threat to the Southeast and may make landfall as the hurricane’s eye inches closer to the Carolinas.
Devastation in the Bahamas
Dorian first slammed into the Bahamas on Sunday afternoon as a Category 5, the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record.
The storm hovered over the archipelago’s northern islands for nearly two days, leveling dozens of buildings, flooding roads and submerging an airport.
At least seven people were killed on the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas, where the storm made landfall.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis took an initial air tour of the devastation on Tuesday but said authorities haven’t been able to make a full assessment on the ground yet. He described the islands as “decimated” and the destruction “unprecedented.”
“We can expect more deaths to be recorded,” Minnis told reporters Tuesday. “Our priority at this time is search, rescue and recovery.”
The British Royal Navy was expected to deliver food to the hard-hit Abaco Islands Tuesday evening, according to the Bahamian prime minister. The U.S. Department of State said it is also providing humanitarian assistance to the Bahamas, and the U.S. Coast Guard said it has rescued dozens of people there.
Theo Neilly, the Bahamas consul general to the United States, said the greatest need is for water, non-perishable food, generators, tents and tarp poles.
“We’re receiving supplies and we’re looking for people who can assist with shipping,” Neilly told ABC News on Tuesday.
Florida to Carolinas in Dorian’s path
Dorian picked up speed Tuesday, moving away from the Bahamas and toward Florida’s east coast.
The storm is now hovering just off the coast of Florida, pummeling the Sunshine State with rain, wind and intense storm surge, eroding the beach in Cape Canaveral.
Hurricane warnings and watches stretch from northeast Florida to North Carolina. Tropical storm warnings and watches even extend up to southern Virginia.
Evacuations have been ordered from Florida’s east coast to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Melbourne Beach, Florida, resident Nancy Whiting lives in an evacuation area, but she opted to ride out the storm in her home — the same as she did for Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017 — to address leaks right as they hit.
“A lot of the neighbors stayed back. They tend to hunker down, just ride out the storm. They’ve been through a lot of these before,” Whiting told ABC News. “This is what happens in Florida you stay and protect your property and help our your neighbors.”
But officials are urging those in evacuation zones to flee the coast immediately.
“There is no more time for hesitation,” South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster tweeted Tuesday night. “If you are in an evacuation zone you need to evacuate now.”
But for some, evacuating isn’t an option.
Frances Eason’s husband, David Eason, is spending the hurricane in a Mt. Pleasant, S.C., hospital.
“We went through [Hurricane] Hugo in 1989 and we went through Florence last October and several in between,” Frances Eason told ABC News. “We fared well through it all.”
“I think we’re safe here,” she said.
Dorian is forecast to pass Savannah, Georgia, early Thursday morning, bringing powerful 92 mph wind gusts.
The storm will then come close to Charleston, S.C., Thursday afternoon as a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds near 100 mph.
From there, the storm will approach North Carolina’s coast and possibly even make landfall on the state’s barrier islands, Outer Banks, by early Friday morning as a Category 1 hurricane.
South Carolina’s coast will be particularly vulnerable to dangerous storm surge, which could reach 8 feet above ground from Isle of Palms to Myrtle Beach, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Dorian is expected to head out to sea by Friday evening.
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