Americans are bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Dorian as the powerful storm slowly makes its way across the Atlantic and toward Florida’s eastern coastline, after it brought “catastrophic” winds and a storm surge to the Bahamas.
Dorian, which has been downgraded to category 4, was crawling at a speed of 1 mile per hour over Grand Bahama island with maximum sustained winds of 155mph and gusts up to 190mph, according to an update on Monday from the US National Hurricane Center.
The storm is expected to continue to slowly drift west or north-west over the next 24 hours, leading to a prolonged period of devastating effects in the region.
News agencies reported that at least five people were killed in the Abaco Islands, in the northern part of the Bahamas, as Dorian continued to hover over Grand Bahama.
The storm destroyed or severely damaged as many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas, according to the Red Cross.
The NHC said a life-threatening storm surge and dangerous winds are expected along portions of the Florida and Georgia coasts, regardless of the exact track Dorian takes. It also said the risk of these effects continued to rise for the Carolinas.
The governors of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina have declared states of emergency, and officials have ordered mandatory evacuations impacting millions of Americans.
President Donald Trump, who cancelled a planned trip to Poland to remain in Washington, has thus far approved emergency declarations for the three southernmost states, freeing up federal resources to co-ordinate and assist with relief efforts there.
In Florida, as evacuations began, governor Ron DeSantis said highway patrol officers would escort fuel trucks to help maintain supplies at petrol stations. As of Monday afternoon local time, roughly a third of stations in the Gainesville, Miami-Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach-Fort Pierce areas were out of fuel, according to the website GasBuddy.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport announced that it would shut down at noon local time on Monday. Miami’s airport advised travellers to check with airlines for the status of their flights and to arrive at least two hours before departure in anticipation of a heavy volume of passengers. American Airlines announced the cancellation of hundreds of flights over the next few days.
US retailers and organisations such as the Red Cross and Team Rubicon have also been preparing for Dorian in recent days.
The American Red Cross said it was mobilising more than 1,600 trained volunteers, 110 emergency response vehicles and at least 99 tractor-trailer loads of supplies.
Home Depot and Lowe’s, the home-improvement retail chains, have activated command centres that help quickly move products to stores in affected areas. Lowe’s said on Friday that it had shipped more than 600 truckloads of storm supplies to areas that may be affected by Dorian’s path.
UBS said insured losses from Dorian could total $25bn, up from a previous base-case estimate of $15bn.