Hurricane on track for Florida after strike in Caribbean
Hurricane Dorian could potentially hit the US coast as a powerful Category four storm.
Hurricane Dorian is posing an increasing threat to Florida as it swirls towards a possible direct hit on the US state after leaving limited damage in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Along much of Florida’s east coast, shoppers rushed to stock up on food and emergency supplies at supermarkets and hardware stores and picked the shelves clean of bottled water.
Queues formed at service stations as motorists topped up their tanks and filled petrol cans.
Forecasters said Dorian is expected to build into a dangerous Category three storm, meaning winds of at least 111mph, or perhaps even a catastrophic Category four, at 130mph or more, before hitting the US on Monday somewhere between the Florida Keys and southern Georgia.
Donald Trump warned Florida residents to be prepared.
“All indications are it’s going to hit very hard and it’s going to be very big,” he said in a video he tweeted on Thursday evening, comparing Dorian to Hurricane Andrew, which devastated South Florida in 1992.
The president cancelled a trip to Poland, saying it was “very important” for him to be in Washington to deal with the storm, adding, “Our highest priority is the safety and security of the American people in the path of the hurricane.”
Josefine Larrauri, a retired translator, went to a Publix supermarket in Miami only to find empty shelves in the water section and store employees unsure of when new cases would arrive.
“I feel helpless because the whole coast is threatened,” she said. “What’s the use of going all the way to Georgia if it can land there?”
As of Thursday evening, Dorian was centred about 330 miles east of the Bahamas, its winds blowing at 85mph as it moved north-west at 13mph.
The storm is expected to pick up steam as it pushes out into warm waters with favourable winds, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, adding: “Starting tomorrow, it really has no obstacles left in its way.”
“If it makes landfall as a Category three or four hurricane, that’s a big deal,” he said.
This morning I will be visiting the National Hurricane Center @NHC_Atlantic to receive a briefing on Hurricane #Dorian as our state continues to prepare. All Floridians should have a plan in place. Don’t wait until it is too late.— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) August 29, 2019
The National Hurricane Centre’s projected track had the storm blowing ashore midway along the Florida peninsula, south-east of Orlando and well north of Miami or Fort Lauderdale.
But because of the difficulty of predicting its course this far ahead, the “cone of uncertainty” covered nearly the entire state.
Forecasters said coastal areas of the Southeast could get five to 10 inches (13 to 25cm) of rain, with 15 inches (38cm) in some places, triggering life-threatening flash floods.
Also at risk were the Bahamas, with Dorian’s expected track running just to the north of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency, and local governments distributed sandbags.
Some residents used community Facebook groups to updates on food stores getting new shipments of water.
At the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral, Nasa decided to move indoors the mobile launch platform for its new mega rocket under development.
Dorian blew through the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a Category one hurricane on Wednesday.
Puerto Rico seemed to be spared any heavy wind and rain, a huge relief on an island where blue tarps still cover some 30,000 homes nearly two years after Hurricane Maria.
The island’s 3.2 million inhabitants also depend on an unstable power grid that remains prone to outages since it was destroyed by Maria.
Several hundred customers were without power across Puerto Rico, said Angel Figueroa, president of a utility workers union.
Police said an 80-year-old man in the town of Bayamon died after he fell trying to climb to his roof to clear it of debris ahead of the storm.
Dorian caused an island-wide blackout in St Thomas and St John in the US Virgin Islands and scattered outages in St Croix, government spokesman Richard Motta said.
No serious damage was reported in the British Virgin Islands, where governor Augustus Jaspert said crews were already clearing roads and inspecting infrastructure by late Wednesday afternoon.