BAHAMAS — Hurricane Dorian came to a catastrophic daylong halt over the northwest Bahamas, flooding the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama with walls of water that lapped into the second floors of buildings, trapped people in attics and drowned the Grand Bahama airport under 6 feet of water. At least five people died and 21 injured people were airlifted to the capital by the U.S. Coast Guard, Bahamas officials said.
Winds and rain continued to pound the northwest islands late Monday night into early Tuesday, sending people fleeing the floodwaters from one shelter to another.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina were ordered to evacuate before the storm rolls up the Eastern Seaboard, bringing the possibility of life-threatening storm-surge flooding even if the storm’s heart stays offshore, as forecast. Several large airports announced closures and many flights were cancelled for Monday and Tuesday.
The U.S. Coast Guard airlifted at least 21 people injured on Abaco Island, which Dorian hit on Sunday with sustained winds of 185 mph (295 kph) and gusts up to 220 mph (355 kph), a strength matched only by the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, before storms were named. Scientists say climate change generally has been fueling more powerful and wetter storms and the only recorded storm more powerful than Dorian was Hurricane Allen in 1980, with 190 mph (305 kph) winds, though it did not make landfall at that strength.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Dorian was expected to start moving slowly to the west-northwest overnight while continuing to pound Grand Bahama Island into the morning.
The Center said the track would carry the storm “dangerously close to the Florida east coast late Tuesday through Wednesday evening and then move dangerously close to the Georgia and South Carolina coasts on Wednesday night and Thursday.”
While it was expected to stay offshore, meteorologist Daniel Brown cautioned that “only a small deviation” could draw the storm’s dangerous core toward land.
By Tuesday morning, the storm’s top sustained winds had dipped to 120 mph (193 kph), making it a Category 3 hurricane, but it remained almost stationary. It was centered 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Freeport – roughly the same distance from the city as at 9 a.m. Hurricane-force winds extended out as far as 45 mph (75 kilometers) in some directions.