TITUSVILLE, Fla. (Reuters) – Hurricane Dorian crashed into the Bahamas on Sunday as the second strongest Atlantic storm on record and inched closer to the U.S. mainland, with parts of Florida evacuating and Georgia and the Carolinas bracing for wind and flooding.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Dorian made landfall on Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands as a Category 5 storm on Sunday with maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (295 km per hour) and gusts of more than 220 mph (354 kph).
Millions of people from Florida to North Carolina were bracing to see whether Dorian avoids a U.S. landfall and veers north into the Atlantic Ocean. Even a glancing blow from one of the strongest storms ever to menace Florida could bring torrential rains and damaging winds, and “a Florida landfall is still a distinct possibility,” the Miami-based NHC warned.
Bahamas residents reported trees snapping and docks being destroyed before the brunt of the storm arrived. The pummeling was expected to last for hours as the hurricane may slow to just 1 mph, “prolonging its catastrophic effects,” the NHC said.
On Great Guana Cay, just off Great Abaco Island, waves began washing over low-lying parts of the tiny 9-mile (14-km) strand of land that is only about a quarter-mile wide by mid-morning, resident Tom Creenan said.
Although some residents left for Nassau and elsewhere days ago, some 200 to 300 are riding out the storm on Great Guana Cay, where power was already out and forecasters are predicting up to 2 feet (61 cm) of rain and 23-foot (7-meter) storm surges.
“The other day the prime minister came out and said everybody in Abaco should leave,” Creenan said by phone. “But there’s no place to go.”
“This is the strongest hurricane that’s ever hit in the Bahamas,” Creenan said. “I grew up in Florida, so I’ve been through Andrew.”
Hurricane Andrew slammed into eastern Florida in 1992 as a category 5 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, obliterating the town of Homestead.
With winds at 185 mph, Dorian ties with Gilbert (1988), Wilma (2005) and the 1935 Labor Day hurricane for the second strongest Atlantic hurricane on record based on maximum sustained winds. Allen in 1980 was the most powerful with 190-mph winds, the NHC said.
Dorian is the strongest hurricane on record to hit the northwestern Bahamas.
Florida was taking no chances with Dorian and four Florida counties, including Palm Beach County, issued mandatory evacuations for some residents, including those in mobile homes, on barrier islands and in low-lying areas. Other coastal counties have announced voluntary evacuations.
U.S. President Donald Trump warned on Sunday that the storm would likely impact the eastern seaboard from Florida to North Carolina.
“This looks monstrous,” Trump said during a briefing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “This looks like it could be larger than all of them.”
FEMA is moving food, water and generators into the southeastern United States, said acting Administrator Peter Gaynor.
“When it comes to response, we are more than ready to deal with anything that Dorian delivers us this year, or any other storm that may come this season,” he told CNN.
Meanwhile, a new tropical storm has formed southwest of Mexico and is expected to become a hurricane on Monday. Tropical Storm Juliette is 455 miles (735 km) from Manzanillo, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph), the NHC said on Sunday.
Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Titusville, Florida; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Steve Holland in Washington and Zachary Fagenson in Jacksonsville; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Daniel Wallis