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Hurricane Dorian blamed for at least 5 deaths in the Bahamas

Hurricane Dorian continued to pound the Bahamas on Monday, barely moving, as it pummelled the islands with a fearsome assault that shredded roofs, hurled cars and forced even rescue crews to take shelter.

Mandatory evacuations in 3 states as potent storm tracks toward U.S. seaboard

Strong winds batter Oceanhill Boulevard in Freeport, as Hurricane Dorian passes over Grand Bahama Island Monday, in this still image taken from a video posted to social media. (Lou Carroll/Reuters)

Latest

  • Dorian, a still-powerful Category 4 storm, stalls over Bahamas, killing five
  • Global Affairs advises Canadians to avoid travel to Bahamas and most of Florida's east coast
  • Georgia, South Carolina order mandatory evacuations of coasts

Hurricane Dorian continued to pound the Bahamas as a Category 4 storm on Monday, barely moving, as it pummelled the islands with a fearsome assault that shredded roofs, hurled cars and forced even rescue crews to take shelter.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis says at least five people have died in the Abaco Islands as Hurricane Dorian continues to pound the region as a Category 4 storm.

Officials said they received a "tremendous" number of calls from people in flooded homes. Forecasters warned that Dorian could generate a storm surge as high as seven metres.

Bahamas Police Chief Samuel Butler urged people to remain calm and share their GPS co-ordinates, but he said rescue crews had to wait until weather conditions improved.

"We simply cannot get to you," he told Bahamas radio station ZNS, which shared reports from callers who said some people were stuck on roofs and in attics.

As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

Strong wind from Hurricane Dorian blow the tops of trees while whisking up water from the surface of a canal in Freeport Monday. (Tim Aylen/The Associated Press)

In the United States, the U.S. National Hurricane Center extended watches and warnings across the Florida and Georgia coasts. Forecasters expected Dorian to stay just off shore, but meteorologist Daniel Brown cautioned that "only a small deviation" could draw the storm's dangerous core toward land.

By 11 p.m. ET Monday, the storm's top sustained winds had fallen to 215 km/h, still within Category 4 range. It was still virtually stationary, centred 55 kilometres northeast of Freeport and 160 kilometres east of West Palm Beach, Fla., Hurricane-force winds extended outward as far as 75 kilometres from the centre of the storm. 

American Airlines says it has cancelled 375 flights through Wednesday due to Dorian. It said operations have been suspended at seven airports it flies to in Florida and the Bahamas, and that there could be additional issues and delays throughout the week at other East Coast airports.

To help people evacuate the region, American said it would cap single-leg main cabin fares from all cities covered by travel alerts in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. It's also waiving fees for bags and pets.

Fort Lauderdale Airport has ceased commercial flight operations until further notice. Orlando International says it will cease operations at 2 a.m. ET Tuesday morning. 

'Not good' 

Houses in a neighborhood in Freeport were engulfed by 1.8 metres of water. "It looks like they're boats on top of the water," said Rosa Knowles-Bain, 61, a resident who fled two days ago to an emergency shelter.

Kimberly Mullings, who is holed up in her Freeport home with 12 people, told CBC News that despite living through several hurricanes, she has never seen anything like Dorian. "There is no way you could have prepared for a storm like this," she said.

Watch Kimberly Mullings describe the damage and danger in Freeport:

Kimberly Mullings tells CBC News about how people are trapped in their homes in Freeport, Bahamas. 1:20
 

Information began emerging from the affected islands, with Bahamas Power and Light saying there is a total blackout in New Providence, the archipelago's most populous island.

"The reports out of Abaco [Island] as everyone knows were not good," company spokesperson Quincy Parker told ZNS Bahamas radio station.

Meanwhile, Don Cornish, island administrator for Grand Bahama Island, told The Associated Press that officials received many calls from people in distress about flooded homes.

Most people went to shelters as the storm neared. Tourist hotels shut down and residents boarded up their homes. But many people were expected to be left homeless.

Watch video posted to social media that shows a Bahamas resort hit by high winds:

Video posted to social media shows a resort in the Bahamas being hit by high winds, lightning and heavy rain as Dorian hits the area. 1:08

"It's devastating," Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Bahamas' Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, said Sunday afternoon. "There has been huge damage to property and infrastructure. Luckily, no loss of life reported."

On Sunday, Dorian's maximum sustained winds reached 297 km/h, with gusts up to 354 km/h, tying the record for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane to ever make landfall.

That equalled the Labour Day hurricane of 1935, before storms were named. The only recorded storm that was more powerful was Hurricane Allen in 1980, with 305 km/h winds, though it did not make landfall at that strength.

Curving toward U.S. seaboard

Forecasters said Dorian was most likely to begin pulling away from the Bahamas early Tuesday and curving to the northeast, parallel to the U.S. southeast seaboard. The system is expected to spin 64 to 80 kilometres off Florida, with hurricane-force wind speeds extending about 60 kilometres to the west.

Joseph Spivey and his son Carson lay sand bags in preparation for Hurricane Dorian in St. Augustine, Florida Monday. (Maria Alejandra Cardona/Reuters)

Canada's Global Affairs is advising Canadians to avoid all travel to the Bahamas and to the east coast of Florida, from north of Deerfield Beach to the mouth of the St. Mary's River.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an order Sunday for the mandatory evacuation of his state's entire coast. The order, which covers about 830,000 people, was to take effect at noon Monday, at which point state troopers were to make all lanes on major coastal highways one-way heading inland.

"We can't make everybody happy, but we believe we can keep everyone alive," McMaster said.

Georgia, North Carolina warn residents

A few hours later, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ordered mandatory evacuations for the state's Atlantic coast, also starting at midday Monday.

Authorities in Florida ordered mandatory evacuations in some vulnerable coastal areas. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned his state it could see heavy rain, winds and floods later in the week.

Dorian first came ashore Sunday at Elbow Cay in Abaco Island at 12:40 p.m. ET, then made a second landfall near Marsh Harbour at 2 p.m.

'Worst day of my life'

Video that Jibrilu and government spokesperson Kevin Harris said was sent by Abaco residents showed homes missing parts of roofs, electric lines on the ground and smashed and overturned cars. One showed floodwaters rushing through the streets of an unidentified town at nearly the height of a car roof.

In some parts of Abaco, "you cannot tell the difference as to the beginning of the street versus where the ocean begins," Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said. According to the Nassau Guardian, he called it "probably the most sad and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people."

The Bahamas archipelago is no stranger to hurricanes. Homes are required to have metal reinforcements for roof beams to withstand winds into the upper limits of a Category 4 hurricane, and compliance is generally tight for those who can afford it. Risks are higher in poorer neighbourhoods, with wooden homes in low-lying areas.

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for Florida's East Coast from Deerfield Beach north to the Georgia state line. The same area was put under a storm surge watch. Lake Okeechobee was under a tropical storm watch.

Mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying and flood-prone areas and mobile homes were in effect starting either Sunday or Monday from Palm Beach County north to at least the Daytona Beach area, and some counties to the north issued voluntary evacuation notices. Weekend traffic was light in Florida despite those orders, unlike during the chaotic run-up to Hurricane Irma in 2017 when the unusually broad storm menaced the entire state.

Ken Graham, director of the hurricane centre, urged people not to bet on safety just because the forecast track had the storm a bit offshore.

With every new forecast, "we keep nudging [Dorian's track] a little bit to the left," said Graham, which is closer to the Florida coast.

With files from CBC News and Reuters

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