Hurricane Dorian became the strongest storm on record to hit the northwestern Bahamas after it was upgraded to the most extreme “category five” designation on Sunday, according to the US National Hurricane Center.
As of Sunday morning, the hurricane was about to hit the northern Abaco Islands of the Bahamas with maximum sustained winds near 180mph, the NHC said. A life-threatening storm surge and dangerous winds are possible along Florida’s east coast through midweek.
“It seems to be one of the biggest hurricanes that we’ve ever seen,” President Donald Trump said on Sunday morning. “Its effects will be felt hundreds of miles or more from the eye of the storm and long before it potentially makes landfall . . . We expect that most of the Eastern Seaboard will be ultimately impacted, and some of it very, very severely.” Mr Trump had cancelled a trip to Europe to monitor the storm.
As it crosses the northwestern Bahamas, Dorian should weaken slightly, the NHC said, and should continue to do so as it moved north to the southeastern US.
In the days since Dorian reached hurricane strength on August 28, the storm has strengthened with startling speed and now threatens to impose fatalities and billions of dollars worth of damage.
Four Florida counties have ordered mandatory evacuations for some residents, including those in mobile homes, on barrier islands and in low-lying areas, according to Reuters. Some coastal counties have announced voluntary evacuations.
Kevin Graham, director of the NHC, said: “You look at the structure, the structure is just a textbook case of a very powerful hurricane. 180 miles an hour, a dangerous situation and moving west at seven miles an hour. So a very slow storm.”
Hurricane Michael was the last category five storm to hit the US in October 2018, and was responsible for 16 deaths and about $25bn in damage, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
In 2017, two hurricanes reached category five. Hurricane Irma maintained sustained category 5 intensity for 60 hours, the second-longest period on record, as it killed people in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Hurricane Maria was the deadliest hurricane of 2017 and was widely considered the worst natural disaster to strike Puerto Rico.
As a result of Hurricane Irma’s damage, Swiss Re estimated insured losses of about $30bn, according to a Morgan Stanley report. Hurricane Michael imposed losses for the property and casualty insurance industry of $7 to 10bn, Morgan Stanley said.