Hurricane Dorian killed at least five people as it stalled over the Bahamas’ Abaco Islands — and as the storm pummeled heavily populated Grand Bahama Island, the nation’s prime minister hinted worse might yet come.
“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy,” Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Monday, adding that people are in “serious distress.” He called the devastation “unprecedented and extensive.”
Dorian was downgraded Monday to a Category 4 storm, but remained capable of massive destruction.
The storm’s maximum sustained winds had dropped to nearly 130 mph, down from 140-145 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said at 11 p.m. Monday. Hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph extended up to 45 miles outward from its center, and tropical-storm force winds of between 39 mph and 73 mph extended as far as 150 miles from the storm’s eye.
Dorian will move slowly northwest starting early Tuesday, and turn north later in the day, forecasters said. By Wednesday night, Dorian is expected to start moving northeast.
In the meantime, Dorian was expected to continue pounding Grand Bahama until Tuesday morning, said the National Hurricane Center. As of 11 p.m. Monday, the storm was “stationary” about 30 miles northeast of Freeport, the island’s biggest city, which is about 87 miles east of Palm Beach, Fla.
“Sounds like a jet engine outside right now,” CNN correspondent Patrick Oppman said during a live report from Freeport. “Howling, blasting, wailing. The longest night of so many people’s lives in the Bahamas right now.”
The storm is expected to veer “dangerously close to the Florida east coast late Tuesday through Wednesday evening, very near the Georgia and South Carolina coasts Wednesday night and Thursday, and near or over the North Carolina coast late Thursday and Friday,” the National Hurricane Center said.
Millions were evacuating coastal regions of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. Airlines canceled flights in the region. Disney World in Orlando said it will close its four theme parks on Tuesday afternoon, but its resort hotels will stay open.
The Bahamas Press, a news website, tweeted a photo of what it said were dead hurricane victims loaded on a flatbed truck in the Abaco Islands. “Sources on the ground tell us bodies are being collected all across Abaco this afternoon. We believe there will be more,” the news service said on Twitter.
A Bahamian official expressed worry about the anecdotal reports of more deaths. “We fear that there could be truth to these stories based on reports from family,” Bahamian Health Minister Duane Sands told The Washington Post. “Until we are able to assess all the areas ravaged, we are unable to confirm these reports.”
At least 21 people were hurt in the Bahamas and evacuated by helicopters, Minnis said.
The first reported death of Dorian came late Sunday night as 7-year-old Lachino McIntosh drowned while his family sought safety from the storm in the Abaco Islands, the Bahamas Press said. His sister was missing, the news service said.
Grand Abaco resident Gertha Joseph, 35, stranded with her 4-month-old son, said in a Facebook video that she had seen neighbors try to swim across rushing waters to a cluster of houses, The Post reported. “But the water just took them,” she said. “Some people, they didn’t get to make it.”
Up to 13,000 homes were severely damaged or destroyed in the Bahamas, said the International Red Cross.
“Hurricane Dorian has had a catastrophic impact. We anticipate extensive shelter needs, alongside the need for short-term economic support, as well as for clean water and health assistance,” Sune Bulow, the group’s head, said in a statement.
The Red Cross said it has designated about $250,000 “to bolster the first wave of the Bahamas Red Cross’ response,” enough to cover about 500 families for emergency shelter assistance. Hundreds of volunteers and more than 30 truckloads of relief supplies are also on their way, the group said.
The storm was severe enough to strand rescue crews, who had to stand down because it was too dangerous to venture out. Dorian’s winds surged ocean water from 12 to 18 feet above normal tide levels — and some waves were even higher, the National Hurricane Center said.
Samuel Butler, a top Bahamian police official, urged people to remain calm and share their GPS coordinates, but he said rescue crews had to wait until weather conditions improved.
“We simply cannot get to you,” he told Bahamas radio station ZNS.
With News Wire Services