BOSTON – Hurricane Dorian is starting to move again, inching toward the northwest and potentially up the U.S. East Coast after bashing the Bahamas for almost two days with high winds and driving rains that have inflicted huge damage, killing five on one island alone.
The storm is now crawling at 1 mile per hour with sustained winds of around 120 miles (190 kilometers) per hour, making it a Category 3 hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said in an 8 a.m. New York time advisory. But the movement is expected to speed up later Tuesday and on Wednesday, with Dorian forecast to move “dangerously close” to the Florida coastline as it travels north toward Georgia and the Carolinas.
While its winds have weakened, Dorian is threatening to inundate coastal communities with rain, rising sea levels and a life-threatening storm surge even if the U.S. mainland dodges a head-on blow. Shoreline residents and businesses in Florida, George and the Carolinas have been ordered by their respective state governments to evacuate.
“We know that these evacuations are inconvenient, difficult and sometimes costly,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement. “But we must realize the potential deadly cost of refusing to evacuate when told.”
Meanwhile, the Bahamas continue to be under attack.
“I don’t think there has been a populated area in the entire Atlantic basin in the climatological record that has experienced the severity and the intensity of impacts that Grand Bahama Island and Abaco have experienced in the past two days,” said Ryan Truchelut, president of Weather Tiger in Tallahassee, Florida.
Dorian is weakening in part because it has exhausted its supply of warm ocean water by sitting over the same spot for days, Truchelut said. He doesn’t see the storm — pulled along by a low pressure system — moving much farther west, with the core of the hurricane likely staying about 75 miles off of Florida. But he said the eastern North and South Carolina are still very much at risk.
“I think it is going to be a pretty significant and powerful low all the way up the East Coast,” Truchelut said.
Dare County, North Carolina, which includes much of the tourist-friendly Outer Banks, issued a mandatory evacuation for visitors starting Tuesday and for residents beginning Wednesday. Other parts of the state’s coastline were also bracing for the storm. Ocean-going commercial vessels and barges greater than 500 gross tons should make plans for departing North Carolina ports, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement early Tuesday local time.
The National Hurricane Center has issued a tropical storm warning for north of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida — near Jacksonville — to Altamaha Sound, Georgia, near the popular Golden Isles area in the state.
While the current forecast keeps Dorian’s center offshore, forecasters are keeping a close eye for changes, according to Ken Graham, the hurricane center’s director. “It doesn’t take much, a little wobble, a little wiggle and you have hurricane-force winds on shore,” he said in a Facebook update.
Grand Bahama, one of the island nation’s northernmost centers, remains near the center of the storm, which has caused widespread flooding in many of the islands of the northwest and central Bahamas, the National Emergency Management Agency has said. Parts of the northern Bahamas are in the “midst of a historic tragedy,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said in a post on Twitter.
Based on reports out of Abaco, one of the first islands to be hit, “the devastation is unprecedented,” he said earlier.
The damage to some of the region’s large tourist hotels will likely hit revenue in a country where tourism accounts for about half of gross domestic product, said Andrew Stanners, investment director for Aberdeen Standard Investments, which owns the nation’s dollar bonds. The Bahamas has recently taken “strident steps” to improve government finances, which leave it better placed to repair the devastation, he said.
There are also two major petroleum terminals in the Bahamas. Buckeye Partners LP, which operates a large crude and refined products terminal at Freeport, roughly 100 miles from the Florida coast, shut its facility, according to Robert Malecky, executive vice president of Buckeye GP. The terminal, which is able to handle oil supertankers, has a capacity of 26 million barrels of crude, gasoline and diesel.
Equinor ASA has a terminal in nearby South Riding Point with a storage capacity of 6.75 million barrels of crude and condensate. The facility was in the process of shutting its terminal ahead of Dorian, according to the company said.
Dorian will cause at least $25 billion of insurance losses, according to analysts at UBS Group AG, the costliest of any natural disaster since 2017. Depending on whether it hits the eastern coast of Florida in the next few days, the storm could cost as much as $40 billion, they said.
In a briefing, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida utilities have assembled 17,000 personnel to help restore power quickly as needed. He said 72 nursing homes and assisted living centers along the coast have been evacuated, and hospitals were starting to evacuate as well.