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Hurricane Dorian Closes In on Bahamas as ‘Catastrophic’ Category 5 Storm

An already dangerous Hurricane Dorian strengthened to a Category 5 storm on Sunday as it aimed its fury at the northern reaches of the Bahamas archipelago, leaving residents scrambling to find shelter as they braced for rising waters and torrential rains.

As dawn broke and the first winds began to batter the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said in a bulletin that the storm’s maximum sustained winds had reached 160 miles an hour, calling it a “catastrophic” storm. It strengthened further through the morning, with winds reaching 175 mph with gusts over 200 mph, the hurricane center said. It warned that “extreme winds and storm surge will continue for several hours.”

[Follow live updates on Hurricane Dorian here.]

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said on Saturday that 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes would be affected. Moving west slowly, Dorian was expected to slow to a crawl as it passed over the Bahamas, a region that prides itself in withstanding powerful storms.

But the storm brings greater dangers than most.

“A prolonged period of life-threatening storm surge, devastating hurricane -force winds and heavy rains are capable of producing life-threatening flash floods,” the National Hurricane Center said.

Meteorologists warned of a storm surge that would raise water levels as much as 15 feet to 20 feet above normal and deliver more than two feet of rainfall in some areas.

“We will pray and hope for the best but plan for the worst,” Michael Pintard, the Bahamian minister of agriculture, said in a text message on Saturday evening.

Residents hunkered down in schools, churches and other emergency shelters, but there was concern that some would try to brave the storm in their homes.

Frankie Fleuridor, an activist who works with the Haitian community in Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco was worried that not everybody would be able to leave. “Some people are saying that they’re not going to go because they have nowhere to go,” he said on Saturday.

“It’s tough for people in the shantytowns,” he said. Their plywood houses are not built to withstand hurricane-force winds and are vulnerable to flooding. He said that he had rented hotel rooms for the most vulnerable, but could not afford to do more. “I’m maxed out,” he said.

Mr. Minnis, the prime minister, warned residents of the most vulnerable regions on Friday to move to higher ground, but The Nassau Guardian reported on Saturday that some residents on Sweeting Cay, a fishing village on the eastern side of Grand Bahama Island, were stranded and calling for help.

Mr. Pintard, the agriculture minister, crisscrossed Grand Bahama Island on Saturday in a last-minute effort to help to residents. Many homes are still damaged from Hurricane Matthew, which hit the island two years ago. He brought a team of workers to nail plywood on roofs, windows and doors.

He said he was concerned that many of the damaged homes would face “tremendous rain downpour and hurricane-force winds,” and that there was a shortage of both labor and plywood to prepare.

The storm’s slow pace and the low-lying islands’ vulnerability to flooding added to those concerns.

Thousands of people were at risk of losing their homes — which is their “life’s investment,” he said, adding that “catastrophic damage” would close businesses and eliminate jobs, “which we are ill prepared for.”

Source: NYT > World News

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