BAHAMAS - USA

Hurricane Dorian weakens after leaving several dead in Bahamas

Lou Carroll via REUTERS | Strong winds batter Oceanhill Boulevard in Freeport, as Hurricane Dorian passes over Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas September 2, 2019.

Hurricane Dorian weakened to a Category 3 storm Tuesday, said US forecasters, after pounding the Bahamas and killing at least five people. The storm is expected to advance on the US coast, where more than a million people were ordered to evacuate.

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Dorian, one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record, lashed the Bahamas late Monday, flooding the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama with walls of water that lapped into the second floors of buildings, trapped people in attics and drowned the Grand Bahama airport under six feet of water.

At least five people died and 21 injured people were airlifted to the capital by the US Coast Guard, Bahamas officials said.

"We are in the midst of a historic tragedy," Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said. "The devastation is unprecedented and extensive."

Winds and rain continued to pound the northwest islands late Monday night into early Tuesday, sending people fleeing the floodwaters from one shelter to another.

Dorian was expected to drift to the northwest late Tuesday and stalk the US Eastern Seaboard coasts of Florida, South Carolina and Georgia.

By early Tuesday, the winds had slowed down from a weekend peak of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometres per hour) to 125 mph (201 kph) and was hovering around the Bahamas.

Evacuations ordered along US Eastern Seaboard

Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina were ordered to evacuate, as forecasters warned of the possibility of life-threatening storm-surge flooding even if the storm's heart stays offshore. Several large airports announced closures and many flights were cancelled for Monday and Tuesday.

A mandatory evacuation of entire South Carolina coast took effect Monday covering about 830,000 people, and transportation officials reversed all lanes of Interstate 26 from Charleston to head inland earlier than planned after noticing traffic jams from evacuees and vacationers heading home on Labor Day, Gov. Henry McMaster said.

A few hours later, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ordered mandatory evacuations for that state's Atlantic coast, also starting at midday Monday.

Authorities in Florida also ordered some mandatory evacuations.

Houses like ‘boats on top of the water’

The storm devastated the Bahamas on Monday, with as many as 13,000 homes likely destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

Houses in a neighbourhood in Freeport on Grand Bahama Island were engulfed by 6 feet (1.8 m) of water. "It looks like they’re boats on top of the water," said Rosa Knowles-Bain, 61, a resident who fled two days ago to an emergency shelter.

The hurricane, which was downgraded late Monday morning to Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, packed maximum sustained winds of 145 miles per hour (240 kph), the NHC said.

Strong gusts and high surf were already being reported along Florida's east coast as the hurricane was about 105 miles (170 km) from West Palm Beach, the NHC said.

At the White House, staff members reviewed hurricane planning with state and local officials. President Donald Trump was being briefed hourly, White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.

Cancelled flights

Delta Air Lines said it canceled 55 flights scheduled for Monday and Tuesday after airports in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Melbourne and Daytona Beach closed.

American Airlines said operations had been suspended at seven airports in Florida and the Bahamas, and a travel alert issued for more than 20 airports including in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Scientists have warned that climate change is making hurricanes more intense. As global warming heats up the ocean surface temperature, storms gather more energy, which can lead to greater rainfall and stronger winds as they make landfall.

"When scientists put the pieces together, they project that in general, hurricanes will become more intense in a warming world ... much like we've seen recently with Hurricanes Harvey, Michael and Florence," the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy group, said in a blog post about Dorian.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

 

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