MIAMI (Reuters) – Residents of Florida on Friday were boarding up windows and stocking up on food, water and gas as Hurricane Dorian gained strength and slowly churned toward the U.S. mainland.
The storm has alarmed forecasters who worry parts of Florida will be walloped by strong winds, a storm surge and heavy rain for an extended period when it makes landfall early next week.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Dorian was expected to continue strengthening and remain an “extremely dangerous major hurricane” as it moves northwest near the Bahamas and approaches the Florida peninsula.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis urged residents to have at least a week’s worth of food, water and medicine, saying at a news conference in Tallahassee that they should be prepared for a “multiday event.” Florida is under a declaration of emergency.
“They’re buying everything, everything and anything that applies to a hurricane, flashlights, batteries, generators,” said Amber Hunter, 30, assistant manager at the ACE Handiman hardware store in Cape Canaveral on Florida’s east coast.
Hunter said generators were the most popular item.
NHC Director Ken Graham urged Florida residents to have their preparations wrapped up on Sunday before tropical storm-force winds hit the coast that night.
Employees at Conchy Joe’s Seafood in Jensen Beach on Florida’s east coast were boarding up windows and stripping bare the restaurant’s waterfront tiki bar on Friday before heading to their homes to make similar preparations.
“I’m planning on boarding up my house this evening,” said Jamison Weeks, the restaurant’s 38-year-old general manager. “The mood is a little tense, everybody’s a little nervous and just trying to prepare as best as possible.”
Dorian is expected to bring a life-threatening storm surge that raises water levels by as much as 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.5 meters) above normal levels in parts of the northwestern Bahamas, the NHC said in an advisory at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT). Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.
“Almost everyone has left, or is leaving today,” said Pauline Powell, 26, who was on a family vacation at the Island Seas Resort in Grand Bahama when the storm started barreling toward the area’s pristine beaches.
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation said hotels and resorts throughout that part of the island nation have activated hurricane response programs. The Grand Bahama International Airport in Freeport will close Friday night and will not open until Sept. 3, the ministry said in a statement.
Dorian began on Friday over the Atlantic as a Category 2 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale but strengthened to a Category 3 later in the day. It had maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour (185 km per hour), according to the latest NHC advisory.
If, as expected, Dorian reaches Category 4 strength over the weekend, its winds will blow at more than 130 mph (210 kph). It is currently moving at a pace of 10 miles per hour (16 km/h), giving it more time to intensify before making landfall.
Forecasters predicted it will be over the northwestern Bahamas on Sunday and near the Florida peninsula late on Monday. It is projected to make landfall in South Florida and then head up through the central part of the state.
Rainfall of about 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm), with up to 18 inches (46 cm) in some areas of the northwestern Bahamas and Florida, is expected.
“What’s concerning is it’s slowed down. We’re looking at a multiple-day event. We were hoping it would just barrel through and leave,” said Ben Malik, the mayor of Cocoa Beach, about 85 miles (136 km) north of Port St. Lucie.
“I’m really worried about the amount of rain we’ll be getting.”
Some gas stations in Florida have run dry and others have long lines of cars, DeSantis said, adding that the state had eased regulations to allow higher-capacity trucks to transport fuel and to make it easier to bring in fuel from other states.
Gasoline prices at the pump are not expected to spike because of the storm, said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.com.
“There are no refiners in Florida, there’s only a pipeline, and I can’t imagine that would be affected significantly. Fuel is flowing, and that’s the most important factor,” DeHaan said.
Chevron Corp (CVX.N), the second-largest U.S.-based oil and natural gas producer, said it has begun evacuating non-essential personnel from two oil platforms in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and has begun supplying “as much fuel as possible in advance of the storm” to its retail fuel outlets in the U.S. Southeast.
Two thousand National Guard troops will have been mobilized for the hurricane by the end of Friday, with another 2,000 joining them on Saturday, Florida National Guard Major General James Eifert said.
Florida officials also were making sure all nursing homes and assisted living facilities had generators, and were checking with more than 100 facilities where information about generators was uncertain.
Only one in five Florida nursing homes plans to rely on deliveries of temporary generators to keep their air conditioners running if Dorian knocks out power, a state agency said on Friday, short of the standard set by a law passed after a dozen people died in a sweltering nursing home after 2017’s Hurricane Irma.
Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was harshly criticized in 2005 for its slow response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, briefed Congress on Friday on the steps they are taking to prepare for Dorian.
FEMA has begun moving personnel and equipment into Georgia, including trucks and line crews who would help get electricity back up and running if there is a serious service interruption in Florida, according to a Democratic aide in the U.S. House of Representatives familiar with the briefings.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has declared a state of emergency in 12 counties in the state.
President Donald Trump on Thursday canceled a planned weekend trip to Poland so he can make sure resources are properly directed for the storm.
Dorian could churn across dozens of launchpads owned by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Air Force and companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
Reporting by Zach Fagenson in Miami, Peter Szekely and Stephanie Kelly in New York, Richard Cowan in Washington, Andrew Hay in New Mexico, Gary McWilliams in Houston and Rebekah F. Ward in Mexico City; writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell