Officials in the northwestern Bahamas ordered the evacuation of low-lying areas and opened shelters in churches and schools on Saturday as they braced for a potential direct hit from the intensifying Hurricane Dorian.
The storm was upgraded to a Category 4 late Friday as it moved toward the United States. Packing winds of nearly 150 miles per hour on Saturday, it was expected to hit Grand Bahama Island and the Abaco Islands on Sunday and linger there into Monday.
The National Hurricane Center warned that because the storm’s movement had slowed, the area should prepare for “a prolonged period of life-threatening storm surge and devastating hurricane-force winds.” Rainfall of up to 15 inches was expected over the northwestern Bahamas, accumulating to as much as 25 inches in some areas. The storm was expected to cause surges of more than 15 feet, Bahamian officials warned.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis appealed to residents living in the areas most at risk to leave their homes ahead of the storm, The Nassau Guardian reported.
“I beg and plead with you to leave the cays and move to the mainland,” he said at a Saturday news conference. “I want you to remember, homes, houses, structures can be replaced; lives cannot be replaced,” he said.
Dr. Minnis estimated that 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes would be affected by the storm. Abaco could begin to feel the effects at about 1 a.m. local time on Sunday and Grand Bahama would follow at about 7 a.m.
Maps: Track Hurricane Dorian’s Path
Maps tracking the hurricane’s path as it makes its way toward Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
Throughout the Bahamas — a chain of more than 700 islands, some only a few feet above sea level — motorists lined up for gas, residents thronged grocery stores and workers filled sandbags and boarded up windows. Tourists fled or moved to higher ground. Bottled water was in high demand as store shelves quickly emptied.
“It’s quite chaotic out there,” said Frederick Smith, 63, a lawyer who lives on the beach in Freeport, Grand Bahama’s main city. On Saturday afternoon, he said he was preparing to ride out the storm at home with his sister and son.
“I have survived every hurricane on the beach in Grand Bahama for 41 years,” Mr. Smith said by telephone. “Regrettably, many of us have our homes on the shoreline and it’s difficult to find alternative accommodation when there’s a crisis,” he added.
Those residents who can afford it have constructed houses designed to withstand hurricanes, Mr. Smith said. He said his own house is elevated to avoid the storm surge, and he has installed impact-resistant windows, a metal roof and hurricane brackets designed to help the walls resist heavy winds.
But residents of poorer communities in Grand Bahama, whose houses are much more vulnerable, may not fare as well. And many residents have yet to fully rebuild their houses after Hurricane Matthew hit Grand Bahama three years ago.
The area in Dorian’s path is not a major center for tourism, although several cruise ships diverted their routes to avoid the storm. The few hotels in the region were largely closed already for the low season.
Forecasters were projecting a sharp swerve north along Florida’s east coast before Dorian comes ashore in the United States. It could now make landfall in Georgia or the Carolinas later next week after losing some of its strength.