Hurricane Dorian now: Storm picking up speed, heading 'dangerously close' to Florida

ABC News(NEW YORK) — Hurricane Dorian, after wreaking havoc over the Bahamas for nearly 2 days, is picking up speed Tuesday morning and forecasters say the deadly storm will soon move “dangerously close” to Florida.

Dorian, now a Category 2, is expected to approach the eastern coastline of Florida Tuesday night through Wednesday evening, before targeting Georgia and the Carolinas.

‘A historic tragedy’

The monstrous hurricane has been blamed for the deaths of at least five people on the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas, where it barreled to shore Sunday afternoon as a Category 5, the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record.

Dorian then came to a grinding halt on Monday morning and remained at a virtual standstill over Grand Bahama, pummeling the island with howling winds and fierce rain.

“Nearly everything is gone” in Marsh Harbour, a town in the Abaco Islands, and the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport is completely submerged, Bahamas Foreign Minister Darren Henfield reported, according to a U.S .State Department official.

“I have never seen destruction like this on this scale on an island before,” ABC News correspondent Marcus Moore told Good Morning America Tuesday from Marsh Harbour.

Meanwhile, there are reports of heavy flooding in Freeport, the main city on Grand Bahama, where Grand Bahama International Airport and the city’s one-story hospital are inundated with water and the main highway has turned into a river, leaving some people trapped, according to the State Department official.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis has described the devastation as “unprecedented and extensive.”

“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy in parts of our northern Bahamas,” Minnis told reporters Monday.

“It’s dark, communication is down, we do not know what’s going on right now,” Iram Lewis, a member of Parliament in the Bahamas, told GMA Tuesday. “Never seen anything like this in my life.”

“We’re gonna need living arrangements, we’re actually going to need medical supplies — our only hospital on the Bahamas, the 911 hospital, we had to evacuate that,” Lewis said, adding that he was “praying that once it breaks we can get out there and do a proper assessment, rescue whoever is still out there.”

The U.S. is providing humanitarian assistance to the Bahamas, beginning with the deployment of a Disaster Assistance Response Team, according to the State Department.

The Coast Guard said helicopter crews medevaced 19 people from the Marsh Harbour Clinic to the Nassau International Airport on Monday.

‘Time is running out to make preparations’

Hurricane Dorian, now a Category 2, is forecast to slowly move north Tuesday, coming “dangerously close” to Florida’s east coast Tuesday night through Wednesday evening, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“The projected path takes the core of the strongest winds, rain and waves just east of Florida,” ABC News senior meteorologist Max Golembo said. “Any movement to the west will bring the worst of the storm closer or even possibly on shore to Florida.”

University of Florida canceled classes for Tuesday and Wednesday and many Florida airports are shuttered as the storm moves in.

Dorian will then be close to the Georgia and South Carolina shorelines Wednesday night into Thursday, before moving near or over North Carolina’s coast Thursday night.

On this current forecast track, the worst of the storm will stay out to sea, but gusty winds and storm surge will remain a threat to the Southeast coast.

The heaviest rainfall is expected to hit the coastal Carolinas, where up to 15 inches of rain is possible.

Dorian is expected to weaken as it nears Wilmington, N.C., and could potentially make landfall Thursday night on the Outer Banks, barrier islands off the coast of the Tar Heel State.

Evacuation orders have been issued for dozens of coastal communities from Florida to North Carolina.

As Charleston resident Tina White stocked up on sand bags Monday, she told ABC News she’s not planning to evacuate.

She called Hurricane Hugo in 1989 “the benchmark.”

“As long as it doesn’t look like it’s gonna be Hugo, we try not to go anywhere,” White said. “But if it does, we will go.”

“It’s kind of stressful deciding whether to stay or to go, and once you kind of make the decision to say you can kind of focus on getting everything ready, and that provides some relief,” White said. “Then you just kind of wait and hope for the best.”

Pete Gaynor, acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told ABC News that his greatest concern was flooding and storm surge, which he said are responsible for 90 percent of all deaths from natural disasters.

Storm surge is forecast to reach 7 feet in Jacksonville, Georgia and the Carolinas.

“Time is running out to make preparations,” Gaynor said Monday on GMA.

“The unpredictability, the uncertainty of where Dorian will go is something that we’re all anxious to find out,” he added, “but you have to be prepared for any scenario.”

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