Hurricane Dorian, which caused widespread devastation in the Bahamas earlier in the week, was churning off the Florida coast Wednesday, with residents along hundreds of miles of coastline warned of its potential for life-threatening storm surges and dangerous winds.
The Category 2 storm was about 95 miles east-northeast of Daytona Beach by noon, the National Hurricane Center said, and heading up the coast at about 9 mph.
Meteorologists warned residents from Sebastian Inlet in Central Florida to Surf City, N.C., that they faced “a danger of life-threatening inundation from rising water” within the next 36 hours. In some parts of North and South Carolina, the storm surge could be 4 to 7 feet, and places as far north as Virginia could face flash floods this week. A tornado or two near the coast of Florida was also possible.
The storm was expected to move “dangerously close” to Florida and Georgia through Wednesday night, and Dorian’s center could be close to the Carolinas this morning through Friday morning, the National Hurricane Center said.
Forecasters expect little change in the storm’s strength as it continues its northward roll. By the time it is expected to brush by Wilmington, N.C., early Friday, forecasters say it will still have winds as strong as 90 mph.
The storm is traveling parallel to the coast, and it is predicted to close in on Charleston, S.C., by this afternoon. Gov. Henry McMaster has issued a mandatory evacuation for all of Charleston County, which has a population of more than 400,000.
About a third of the 830,000 people ordered to leave coastal counties in South Carolina have already evacuated, McMaster said Tuesday.
As Hurricane Dorian pulled away from the Bahamas, relief workers, medical personnel, pilots and others gathered at a private terminal of the Nassau airport Wednesday amid boxes of supplies, anxiously awaiting permission from the government to fly to devastated areas and provide assistance.
But with most of the runways on the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama — the islands most heavily pummeled by the storm — flooded or covered in sand, it was difficult to deliver help or even assess the damage wrought by the storm. In addition, the government has given priority to helicopter evacuations.
Dorian made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane Sunday, then lingered, pummeling the northern islands of the Bahamian archipelago for more than three days. At least seven people have died, including children, government officials said, adding that the toll is expected to rise.
Despite the limited access to the islands, pilots have conducted flyovers revealing scenes of absolute devastation. Entire neighborhoods were reduced to unrecognizable fields of rubble, houses were crushed into splinters and boats were tossed into heaps like toys.
The Bahamian prime minister, Hubert Minnis, was able to go on a reconnaissance mission over Abaco on Tuesday afternoon, though storm conditions still prevented flying over Grand Bahama.
“People need mostly food, security and shelter,” Minnis said in brief comments to reporters when he returned.
TWO MORE STORMS COMING
Dorian is not the only storm that the National Hurricane Center is monitoring. In the Gulf of Mexico, Tropical Storm Fernand was pushing northwest at about 6 mph, toward a likely landfall south of the Rio Grande Wednesday night.
With sustained winds near 50 mph, Fernand is expected to strike hardest in Mexico, but will also bring gusty winds to South Texas and the lower Texas coast, with rainfall totals between 2 and 4 inches through Friday in most areas, according to the forecast.
Far away in the eastern Atlantic is Tropical Storm Gabrielle, the season’s seventh named storm. That one is about 1,300 miles southwest of the Azores, and does not appear at this time to pose a threat to any land, the center said.
September is usually the busiest month of the storm season.
— There were ominous skies in Orlando, but it was largely business as usual
Orange clouds drifted over Orlando on Tuesday night, but its residents were relaxed and many businesses remained open, with Walt Disney World vowing to return to relative normalcy Wednesday morning.
Jerry Demings, the mayor of Orange County, which includes Orlando, opened a news conference Tuesday night by sending his prayers to the Bahamas.
“I do realize that the emotional turmoil that residents and guests on the island have and will experience will be life changing for them,” he said. “And so we are fortunate that it does not appear that we will experience” a similar devastation.
As of about 8:30 p.m., rain had begun to fall and the Orlando International Airport had recorded winds at 21 mph, with gusts near 40.
In the Holden Heights area of Orlando, a Rent-A-Center and several other storefronts were boarded up. Starbucks stores nearby posted signs saying they were closed because of the hurricane.
But most establishments appeared to be operating as usual.
At Hermanos Barber Shop, where four people were getting haircuts Tuesday night, employees said they had not even considered closing.
“If there’s no curfew, we’ll be here,” said Alex Presinal, the manager.
He said that, as normal, the store planned to open at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
At Paisano’s Pizza and Pasta, employees said they had been deluged all day with customers.
“We’ve been slammed,” said Leila, an employee who declined to give her last name, as she slid another pizza box onto the counter for a delivery driver.
Walt Disney World, which had closed some of parks Tuesday, announced that it planned to reopen all but the Typhoon Lagoon Water Park on Wednesday.