Bahamas braces for category 5 storm Dorian

Hurricane Dorian, which intensified to a category 5 storm capable of inflicting catastrophic levels of destruction, has made landfall on an island chain in the northern Bahamas

Massive waves, torrential rain and winds of 285 kmph were reported as Dorian hit Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands [AP]

Massive waves, torrential rain and winds of 285 kilometres an hour were reported as Dorian hit Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands on Sunday, The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami said.

The hurricane was the strongest recorded in modern history in the northwestern Bahamas, according to the National Weather Service.

Residents reported power outages, flooding and the destruction of docks as authorities reported the eyewall of the storm could pass directly over the islands. It was also expected to pass over the Grand Bahama island, the northernmost island in the country, later in the day at it continued to move west at a sluggish 11 kmph.

Officials ordered residents to evacuate both areas, making several last minute pleas as the storm made landfall.

“We cannot stress the amount of devastation and catastrophic impact that Hurricane Dorian is expected to bring,” Shavonne Moxey-Bonamy, the Bahamas chief meteorologist, said on Sunday.

That devastation is expected to be prolonged as the hurricane stalls over the islands late on Sunday, leading to an extended period – potentially up to two days – of massive waves, flooding, power outages and rain.

The storm could cause sea levels to rise up to six metres and winds might reach a speed of 340 kmph, according to the NHC.

“These hazards will cause extreme destruction in the affected areas and will continue for several hours,” the NHC said.

Many northern Bahamas residents hunkered down in schools, churches and other shelters as the storm approached.

But despite the orders to evacuate, officials said several residents had chosen to stay home to ride out the storm.

Silbert Mills, the 59-year-old owner of the Bahamas Christian Network, a local broadcasting company, told the Associated Press news agency he plans to ride out the storm in the Abaco Islands, where he said trees and power lines were already down and some roads had become impassable.

“The winds are howling like we’ve never, ever experienced before,” Mills said.

‘You have to evacuate’

In the northern stretches of the Bahamas archipelago, hotels closed, residents boarded up homes and officials hired boats to move people from low-lying areas to bigger islands as the hurricane approached.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis warned that Dorian is a “dangerous storm” and said any “who do not evacuate are placing themselves in extreme danger and can expect a catastrophic consequence”.

He added that 73,000 people and 21,000 homes were at risk from storm surges.

On Saturday, small skiffs shuttled residents from the outlying fishing communities to McLean’s Town, a settlement of a few dozen homes at the eastern end of Grand Bahama Island.

evacuate dorian

Residents were told to evacuate several towns in the Bahamas on Saturday [File: Ramon Espinosa/AP]

Most people came from Sweeting Cay, a fishing town of a few hundred people about 1.5 metres above sea level.

“We’re not taking no chances,” Margaret Bassett, a ferry operator for the Deep Water Cay resort, told the Associated Press news agency. “They said evacuate, you have to evacuate.”

On Sunday, several officials made last minute appeals to those who had stayed behind.

“Please, please heed the warning,” said Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for Grand Bahama island. “We have no more time available.”

Among those refusing to leave were 32 people in Sweetings Cay and a group that sought safety in Old Bahama Bay resort, according to the Associated Press.

“When the hurricane is upon us, even with the best intention, we will not be able to act,” said Samuel Butler, the assistant commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force. “The roads will be filled with water. There may be obstructions and we will not be able to get to you.”

Rainfall estimates for the northwestern Bahamas were upped to 30-60cm as the hurricane approached, with isolated incidents of up to 76cm expected to dump down in some areas.

Authorities had closed airports for the Abaco Islands, Grand Bahama and Bimini islands, but Lynden Pindling International Airport in the capital of Nassau remained open on Sunday. 

Approaching the US

The slow-crawling storm was predicted to take until Monday afternoon to pass over the Bahamas, and then turn sharply and skirt up the US coast, staying just off Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday and then buffeting South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday.

But the slow approach complicates the outlook for the US, National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham told the AP, as the increased time allows small changes in the winds that steer the storm.

This means Dorian can still make landfall anywhere from Florida to North Carolina during the next five days, he said.

Earlier in the week, US President Donald Trump, who canceled a high-profile trip to Warsaw to focus on storm preparations, declared a federal state of emergency in Florida, authorizing US assistance to supplement state and local efforts.

South Carolina and North Carolina have also declared statewide states of emergency, while Georgia announced a state of emergency for 12 counties.

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