Hurricane Dorian: Bahamas suffers ‘huge damage’ as storm becomes joint strongest ever

Andrew Buncombe
Hurricane Dorian churning over Atlantic Ocean close to northern Bahamas: AP

Hurricane Dorian has caused major damage in the Bahamas – destroying homes and ripping roofs from buildings – as it made landfall as the joint-strongest ever Atlantic storm. There were no immediate reports of deaths.

As the governor of South Carolina ordered an evacuation of the entire coast as the storm threatened the US, Bahamian and tourists in places such as the Abaco Islands and Marsh Harbour, took shelter in schools and churches when Dorian made landfall as a category 5 storm with gusts of up to 220mph and a sustained speed of 185mph.

When it struck land twice on Sunday afternoon – first in the Abaco Islands at then close to Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island – it equalled a record set by a Labour Day storm from 1935. That storm, which occurred before hurricanes were given names, ultimately left major damage in its wake in the Florida Keys.

Hubert Minnis, the Bahamian PM wept at a press conference: “This is probably the saddest and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people...We are facing a hurricane, Hurricane Dorian that we have never seen in the Bahamas.”

Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Bahamas’ ministry of tourism and aviation, said: “It’s devastating.There has been huge damage to property and infrastructure. Luckily, no loss of life reported.”

“Pray for the people in the Bahamas,” Donald Trump tweeted after returning to the White House from Camp David, to better monitor the federal response to the storm. “Being hit like never before, Category 5. Almost 200 MPH winds.”

Earlier he told a meeting of the federal emergency response agency (FEMA) at its headquarters: “We don’t even know what’s coming at us. All we know is it’s possibly the biggest. I’m not sure that I’ve ever even heard of a Category 5. I knew it existed. And I’ve seen some Category 4s – you don’t even see them that much. But a Category 5 … that’s the ultimate, and that’s what we have unfortunately,”

As emergency responders in the Bahamas said they were preparing to assess the damage once the storm had passed, officials in the US warned residents along a large swathe of the south-eastern seaboard to be alert.

While forecasters believe Dorian will no longer directly strike Florida, it is expected to turn sharply and move towards the US coast, staying just off Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday. It is then likely to move towards the Carolinas.

The National Hurricane Centre on Sunday night said Dorian continued to batter Great Abaco. “The western eyewall is approaching eastern Grand Bahama Island. This is a life threatening situation,” it added.

Earlier, it issued a hurricane watch for Florida’s east coast from Deerfield Beach north to the Volusia and Brevard county line. The same area was also put under a storm surge watch.

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‘It is a very, very powerful hurricane’ Donald Trump says incoming hurricane Dorian is ‘a problem’

In Palm Beach County, the authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation for the eastern half of the county on Sunday afternoon. that included mobile homes, substandard housing, low-lying areas prone to flooding and homes along the intracoastal waterway.

Governor Ron DeSantis warned residents: “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

He said that some forecast models suggested Dorian may yet move onto part of the Florida peninsula.

In Bahamas, authorities set up 14 shelters including one in Freeport on Grand Bahama (AP)

“That could produce life-threatening storm surge and hurricane force winds,” he said. “That cone of uncertainty still includes a lot of areas on the east coast of Florida and even into central and north Florida, so we are staying prepared and remaining vigilant.”

Late on Sunday afternoon, South Carolina governor Henry McMaster ordered a mandatory evacuation of his state’s entire coast. The order – affecting around one million people – goes into effect at noon on Monday.

In the Bahamas, video posted onto social media showed powerful winds and huge amounts of rain. Mr Jibrilu, and government spokesman Kevin Harris, said they had seen footage that showed homes missing parts of their roofs, downed power lines and smashed and overturned cars. One showed floodwaters rushing through the streets of an unidentified town.

Earlier, prime minister Hubert Minnis warned that anyone who did not evacuate was placing themselves in extreme danger and could expect “a catastrophic consequence”. The government opened 14 shelters across the Bahamas. Dozens ignored evacuation orders, officials said.

Bahamas radio station ZNS Bahamas reported that a mother and her child in central Grand Bahama called to say they were sheltering in a closet and seeking help from police.

Jack Pittard, a 76-year-old American who has visited the Bahamas for 40 years, said he has decided to ride out the storm – his first hurricane – in the Abaco Islands. A short video he posted, showed winds shaking his home and ripping off its siding, the Associated Press reported. “I’m not afraid of dying here,” said Mr Pittard, who lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

Silbert Mills, owner of the Bahamas Christian Network, said trees and power lines were torn down in the Abaco Islands and some roads were impassable.

“The winds are howling like we’ve never, ever experienced before,” said Mr Mills, 59, who planned to ride out the hurricane with his family in the concrete home he built 41 years ago in central Abaco.

Among those refusing to leave were 32 people in Sweetings Cay, and a group that sought safety in Old Bahama Bay resort, which officials said was not safe.

Additional reporting by agencies

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