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Hurricane Dorian Updates: Storm Pounds the Bahamas and Threatens Florida

Hurricane Dorian, now a Category 3 storm, finally began to slowly inch away from the Bahamas early Tuesday, after pummeling the islands with unrelenting rain and winds as the United States waited to see what destructive path it would take.

The storm, which hit the Northern Bahamas as one of the strongest on record in the Atlantic, remained stationary just north of Grand Bahama Island, delivering 120 mile-per-hour winds and ceaseless downpours that have flooded neighborhoods, destroyed homes and killed at least five people. The hurricane was expected to start turning north near Florida’s eastern coast by Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

It is highly unusual for a storm of Dorian’s magnitude to halt and hover over land, bringing what officials fear could be catastrophic damage to the islands. It crawled along at just one mile an hour on Monday before all but standing still, moving just 14 miles from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Some residents were able to send video from the Abaco Islands, which took the full brunt of the hurricane. Stunned residents could be seen among crumpled cars, smashed homes, piles of debris and contorted trees.

[Read more here about the destruction on the Abaco Islands.]

On Grand Bahama Island, the waters rose quickly over much of the main city, Freeport, trapping people on top of their houses. Messages pleading for rescue ricocheted over WhatsApp, a messaging app, but the wind gusts and racing currents made it impossible to reach many people.

Grand Bahama was set to endure another day of dire conditions on Tuesday, with wind gusts of up to 150 m.p.h., storm surges as much as 15 feet above normal tide levels and devastating flooding from up to 30 inches of rain, the National Hurricane Center said.

Forecasters said the hurricane would move “dangerously close” to the Florida coast, beginning late Tuesday night and continuing through Wednesday evening. Then, it is expected to continue toward the Georgia and South Carolina coasts beginning late on Wednesday. By the end of the week it is expected to be shadowing the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia.

[President Trump’s hurricane-related tweets were delivered with the speed of a hailstorm over the weekend.]

Even if the hurricane’s center does not reach the Florida coast, strong winds and rain are all but certain to disrupt life in that region. Much of Florida’s eastern coast is also susceptible to dangerous storm surges.

Rain bands and tropical storm level winds pelted Palm Beach County late on Monday and Tuesday morning. The authorities cautioned that residents should remain indoors throughout the day, and people appeared to be heeding the warning. Roads were almost entirely empty under dark gray skies and occasional whistling wind gusts.

Florida has survived so many major hurricanes that the lessons the state has learned could fill a textbook for disaster preparation and response.

Perhaps no truth is more frightening than the fact that a storm need not reach Category 5 strength — or even strike land — to wreak havoc on the jutting Florida peninsula and its 21.2 million residents.

1. Mobile homes are safer than they used to be — but still vulnerable.

As of 2017, Florida had around 850,000 mobile homes, more than any other state in the nation. It also has some of the nation’s most stringent standards for mobile home construction and installation, a legacy of Hurricane Andrew. The standards were credited with helping many mobile homes survive Hurricane Irma in 2017.

2. Nursing homes require special attention.

This lesson became evident in September 2017, when a dozen residents of a Hollywood, Fla., nursing home died in the intense heat after Hurricane Irma. The storm had caused widespread power failures, and the nursing home lost its air-conditioning.

The episode shocked Florida lawmakers into action, compelling them to pass a law that requires nursing homes to have backup generators and enough fuel to maintain comfortable temperatures during power failures.

3. Storm surges cause ruinous flooding and wipe out roads and beaches.

Hurricane Matthew never made landfall in Florida in 2016. Instead, it hugged the state’s Atlantic coast in a path similar to the one forecast for Hurricane Dorian. But Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm, nevertheless flooded St. Augustine. Hurricane Irma did the same the following year, leaving St. Augustine and Jacksonville underwater, despite never hitting either city directly.

4. Strong building codes matter.

When Hurricane Michael flattened parts of the Florida Panhandle last year, it exposed a serious weakness in the state’s building code: Stringent rules to make homes along the Atlantic coast resistant to fierce winds were more lenient in the Panhandle, a region historically less prone to hurricanes. Older properties in the scenic town of Mexico Beach, Fla., did not stand a chance against that storm, a Category 5 beast.

5. Power failures are inevitable.

Hurricane Irma left as many as 15 million people without power in 2017. But officials said that they were learning from past mistakes and embracing new technology.

Concrete power poles have replaced many older wooden ones. New switches installed in transformers allow the devices to be reset without sending out repair crews. All five million customers have meters that allow the company to know when someone has no power, even if they are out of town. Drones buzz over neighborhoods after storms to help identify problems with the lines.

[Read more here about Florida’s hurricane lessons here.]

Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez of Miami-Dade County said the government would begin accepting donations of supplies for the ravaged islands at four sites.

“We’ll match our thoughts and prayers with action by offering as much assistance as we can in the aftermath of this unprecedented event,” he said, accompanied by local and Bahamian officials at a Tuesday morning news conference.

Bahamians were among the first settlers of Miami, and many families can trace their lineage to the archipelago. Some still have relatives there, including Chairwoman Audrey M. Edmonson of the Miami-Dade County Commission.

“They are battered, but they are not broken,” she said.

Linda Treco-Mackey, the consul general of the Bahamas in Miami, said she hoped Dorian would quickly peel north and out to sea.

“We are, as a people, just hoping that we get past these next few days,” she said.

Even the self-proclaimed “Most Magical Place on Earth” can’t put its wand on exactly where Hurricane Dorian will go, and so Walt Disney World will shutter most of its attractions by 3 p.m. on Tuesday.

The 40-square-mile theme park’s hotels remain open, but famous destinations like Epcot and the Magic Kingdom Park will not reopen until after the storm passes, “when it is safe to do so,” according to the resort’s website.

Families who traveled to Orlando over the weekend to visit the park had been monitoring the storm closely.

Chad Alan, 35, a toy collector from Indianapolis with a popular YouTube channel, arrived at the park on Sunday with his mother. He said he is a “Disney nerd” and visits often, but the closing is a first.

“It’s going to feel weird, because you’re going to feel a little trapped,” he said of being at the resort on Tuesday. “If all the parks are closed, there’s nowhere else to go.”

[Here’s what our photographers are seeing as Florida braces for a major hurricane.]

But Mr. Alan made a cozy, Disney-themed backup plan. He plans to invite over friends who are also visiting the park, order food, and watch Disney movies all day.

Mr. Alan and his mother have been documenting their trip — and Mr. Alan’s toy purchases — on his YouTube channel, which has more than 785,000 subscribers.

The Universal Orlando Resort said on Twitter that it was monitoring the storm and that a water theme park would be closed on Tuesday. The resort planned to keep the rest of the park open. More than 580 flights to and from Orlando’s airports had been canceled.

Orlando’s identity is tied to its amusement industry, which has helped it become the most popular destination in the United States. The Orlando International Airport also closed to commercial flights at 2 a.m. Tuesday and said it would be closed all day.

South Florida, which had been bracing for a powerful hurricane since last week, on Monday was the first region to escape the cone of uncertainty, the area in which forecasters believe the hurricane may land.

Forecasters repeatedly cautioned that much of the coast is still susceptible to storm surges and gusts, and a tropical-storm-force wind breezed through Juno Beach Pier on Monday afternoon. They said even a small change could move the cone back onto the lower portion of the state, and a hurricane warning was in effect just north of West Palm Beach.

But the adjustment of the hurricane’s projected path nonetheless brought comfort to South Floridians who have been on high alert.

“If you went out into the streets today in Martin County, and you rolled your window down and you listened closely, you would hear a collective sigh of relief,” Sheriff William D. Snyder of Martin County said on Monday afternoon.

Winds over 39 m.p.h. were still expected, so causeways remained closed. Some 1,200 people had checked into the county’s emergency shelters. But Dorian continued to stay away from shore.

“We feel good, and yet we must stay alert,” Sheriff Snyder said.

Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of the Miami-Dade County public schools, announced that classes would resume on Wednesday, “unless there is a shift in Dorian’s forecasted track.”

Elisabeth Malkin contributed reporting.

Source: NYT > World News

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