Dorian strikes Bahamas as dangerous Category 5 storm

McLEAN'S TOWN CAY, Bahamas (AP) — Hurricane Dorian struck the northern Bahamas on Sunday as a catastrophic Category 5 storm, its 185 mph winds ripping off roofs and tearing down power lines as hundreds hunkered in schools, churches and other shelters.

The second-strongest Atlantic hurricane since 1950, Dorian hit land in Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands after authorities made last-minute pleas for those in low-lying areas to evacuate. But officials recognized there were not many structures on higher ground on the largely flat archipelago southeast of Florida.

Millions from Florida to the Carolinas kept a wary eye on the slow-moving Dorian amid indications it would veer sharply northeastward after passing the Bahamas and track up the U.S. Southeast seaboard. But authorities warned that even if its core did not make U.S. landfall and stayed offshore, the potent storm would likely hammer U.S. coastal areas with powerful winds and heavy surf.

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This Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019 image provided by NASA shows a view of Hurricane Dorian from the International Space Station as it churned over the Atlantic Ocean north of Puerto Rico. Leaving mercifully little damage in its wake in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Hurricane Dorian swirled toward the U.S., with forecasters warning it will draw energy from the warm, open waters as it closes in. (NASA via AP)
Store shelves are empty of bottled water as residents buy supplies in preparation for Hurricane Dorian, in Doral, Fla., Thursday, July 29, 2019. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Dorian could hit the Florida coast over the weekend as a major hurricane. (AP Photo/Marcus Lim)
Shoppers prepare ahead of Hurricane Dorian at The Home Depot on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Pembroke Pines, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Empty shelves are seen with a sign at Costco stating that the retailer is currently sold out of water ahead of Hurricane Dorian on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Davie, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham, left, looks on as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks about Tropical Storm Dorian outside of the the National Hurricane Center, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
This GOES-16 satellite image taken Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, at 14:20 UTC and provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows Hurricane Dorian, right, moving over open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Dorian was expected to grow into a potentially devastating Category 3 hurricane before hitting the U.S. mainland late Sunday or early Monday somewhere between the Florida Keys and southern Georgia. (NOAA via AP)
Shoppers wait in long lines at Costco, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Davie, Fla., as they stock up on supplies ahead of Hurricane Dorian. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA - AUGUST 30: People walk to their boat through a flooded parking lot at the Haulover Marine Center before the arrival of Hurricane Dorian on August 30, 2019 in Miami Beach, Florida. The high water was due to King tide which may cause additional problems as Hurricane Dorian arrives in the area as a possible Category 4 storm along the Florida coast. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA - AUGUST 30: Weston Rice drives through a flooded parking lot as he prepares to drop his jet ski into the water at the Haulover Marine Center before the arrival of Hurricane Dorian on August 30, 2019 in Miami Beach, Florida. The high water was due to King tide which may cause additional problems as Hurricane Dorian arrives in the area as a possible Category 4 storm along the Florida coast. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A man stands on a store's roof as he works to prepare it for the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in Freeport on Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019. Hurricane Dorian intensified yet again Sunday as it closed in on the northern Bahamas, threatening to batter islands with Category 5-strength winds, pounding waves and torrential rain. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
This GOES-16 satellite image taken Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, at 17:00 UTC and provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows Hurricane Dorian, right, churning over the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Dorian struck the northern Bahamas on Sunday as a catastrophic Category 5 storm, its 185 mph winds ripping off roofs and tearing down power lines as hundreds hunkered in schools, churches and other shelters. (NOAA via AP)
President Donald Trump, left, listens as Kenneth Graham, director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center, on screen, gives an update during a briefing about Hurricane Dorian at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, in Washington, at right of Trump is Acting Administrator Pete Gaynor, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler, and Neil Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing about Hurricane Dorian at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, in Washington, as Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, left, looks on. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
People walk on a largely deserted beach of the Atlantic Ocean on the barrier island in Vero Beach, Fla., Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019. The barrier island is under a voluntary evacuation today and a mandatory evacuation tomorrow in preparation for the possibility of Hurricane Dorian making landfall. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
RIVIERA BEACH, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 1: Workers place shutters over the windows of a Food Mart store as the owner prepares just in case Hurricane Dorian hits the area on September 1, 2019 in Riviera Beach, Florida. Dorian was projected to make landfall along the Florida coast but now projections have it making a sharp turn to the north as it closes in on Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Tree branches are seen in the road during the approach of Hurricane Dorian on September 1, 2019 in Nassau, Bahamas. - Hurricane Dorian strengthened into a catastrophic Category 5 storm Sunday, packing 160 mph (267 kph) winds as it was about to slam into the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, US weather forecasters said."#Dorian is now a category 5 #hurricane with 160 mph sustained winds," the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in a tweet. "The eyewall of this catastrophic hurricane is about to hit the Abaco Islands with devastating winds," it said.The slow moving storm was expected to linger over the Bahamas through Sunday and much of Monday, dumping up to 25 inches of rain in some areas and unleashing storm surges of 10 to 15-feet, forecasters said. (Photo by Lucy WORBOYS / AFP) (Photo credit should read LUCY WORBOYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Tree branches are seen in the road during the approach of Hurricane Dorian on September 1, 2019 in Nassau, Bahamas. - Hurricane Dorian strengthened into a catastrophic Category 5 storm Sunday, packing 160 mph (267 kph) winds as it was about to slam into the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, US weather forecasters said."#Dorian is now a category 5 #hurricane with 160 mph sustained winds," the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in a tweet. "The eyewall of this catastrophic hurricane is about to hit the Abaco Islands with devastating winds," it said.The slow moving storm was expected to linger over the Bahamas through Sunday and much of Monday, dumping up to 25 inches of rain in some areas and unleashing storm surges of 10 to 15-feet, forecasters said. (Photo by Lucy WORBOYS / AFP) (Photo credit should read LUCY WORBOYS/AFP/Getty Images)
The entrance to Wambasso Beach County Park is closed in Wambasso Beach, Florida on September 1, 2019, ahead of Hurricane Dorian. - Hurricane Dorian unleashed "catastrophic conditions" as it hit the northern Bahamas, lashing the low-lying island chain with devastating 180 mph (285 kph) winds, the most intense in its modern history. Florida residents, meanwhile, were bracing for a potentially dangerous brush with the storm as it slowly turns north after passing the Bahamas. (Photo by Adam DelGiudice / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADAM DELGIUDICE/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump receives a briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) on Hurricane Dorian in Washington, DC, on September 1, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump receives a briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) on Hurricane Dorian in Washington, DC, on September 1, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
ATLANTIC OCEAN - SEPTEMBER 1: In this NOAA GOES-East satellite handout image, Hurricane Dorian, now a Cat. 5 storm, tracks towards the Florida coast taken at 13:20Z September 1, 2019 in the Atlantic Ocean. A hurricane warning is in effect for much of the northwestern Bahamas as it gets hit with 175 mph winds. According to the National Hurricane Center Dorian is predicted to hit the U.S. as a Category 4 storm. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
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The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Dorian's maximum sustained winds at its 12:45 p.m. landfall were 185 mph (295 kph), up from 175 mph (281 kph). It was moving west at 7 mph (11 kph). "Catastrophic conditions" are occurring in The Abaco Islands and expected across Grand Bahama later in the day, the center said.

Dorian's power was second only to Hurricane Allen in 1980, with its 190 mph winds.

"It's going to be really, really bad for the Bahamas," Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said.

In the northern stretches of the Bahamas archipelago, hotels closed, residents boarded up homes and officials hired boats to move people to bigger islands as Dorian approached.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis warned that any "who do not evacuate are placing themselves in extreme danger and can expect a catastrophic consequence."

Still, dozens of people ignored evacuation orders, officials said, and they were warned that they were placing their lives in danger.

"The end could be fatal," said Samuel Butler, assistant police commissioner. "We ask you, we beg you, we plead with you to get to a place of safety."

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.

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 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.

Butler said officials were closing certain roads with heavy equipment and warned that those on the other side would be stranded until after Dorian has passed. The government has opened 14 shelters across the Bahamas.

"We cannot stress the amount of devastation and catastrophic impact that Hurricane Dorian is expected to bring," said Shavonne Moxey-Bonamy, the Bahamas chief meteorologist.

Earlier Saturday, small skiffs shuttled between outlying fishing communities and McLean's Town, a settlement of a few dozen homes at the eastern end of Grand Bahama island, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) from Florida's Atlantic coast. Most came from Sweetings Cay, a fishing town of a few hundred about 5 feet (1.5 meters) above sea level.

"We're not taking no chances," said Margaret Bassett, a ferry boat driver for the Deep Water Cay resort. "They said evacuate, you have to evacuate."

But Jack Pittard, a 76-year-old American who has been traveling to the Bahamas for 40 years, said he has decided to ride out the storm in The Abaco Islands. He said it's the first hurricane he will experience in his life.

"There's fear," he said by phone Sunday as it approached. "I'm worried about destruction of property, but I don't believe there's going to be loss of lives here."

Pittard said he battened up his house and is spending the storm in a nearby duplex behind a group of cottages owned by a friend. He noted the ocean is quite deep near where he's staying, and there's a cay that provides protection, so he doesn't expect significant storm surge.

"I'm not afraid of dying here," said Pittard, who lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

Meanwhile, Klotzbach, the hurricane researcher, warned of Dorian's catastrophic strength: "Abaco is going to get wiped."

Over two or three days, the slow-moving hurricane could dump as much as 4 feet (1 meter) of rain, unleash devastating winds and whip up a dangerous storm surge, said private meteorologist Ryan Maue, seconding some of the most reliable computer models.

Government spokesman Kevin Harris said Dorian was expected to affect 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes. Authorities closed airports for The Abaco Islands, Grand Bahama and Bimini, but Lynden Pindling International Airport in the capital of Nassau remained open.

Jeffrey Allen, who lives in Freeport on Grand Bahama, said he had learned after several storms that damage predictions sometimes don't materialize, but he still takes precautions.

"It's almost as if you wait with anticipation, hoping that it's never as bad as they say it will be. However, you prepare for the worst nonetheless," he said.

The Bahamas archipelago is frequently hit by hurricanes. Construction codes require homes 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 residents who can afford it. Risks are higher in poorer communities, which typically have wooden homes and are generally in lower-lying areas.

The slow-crawling storm was predicted to take until Monday afternoon to pass over the Bahamas, and then turn sharply and skirt up the U.S. coast, staying just off Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday and then buffeting South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday.

The National Hurricane Center Sunday morning 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. Lake Okeechobee was put under a tropical storm watch.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned residents along the state's densely populated Atlantic coast: "We're not out of the woods yet."

He suspended tolls on the Florida Turnpike and other roads, including Alligator Alley which crosses the state from Fort Lauderdale to Naples, to help keep traffic flowing for those who choose to evacuate.

DeSantis noted some forecast models still bring Dorian close to or even onto the Florida peninsula.

"That could produce life-threatening storm surge and hurricane force winds," DeSantis 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."

Palm Beach County announced a mandatory evacuation for the eastern half of the county as of 1 p.m. Sunday. The evacuation includes mobile homes, substandard housing, low-lying areas prone to flooding and homes along the Intracoastal Waterway and on barrier islands.

For Florida, it's all going to come down to a matter of a handful of miles between relative safety and potential devastation. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Dorian is forecast to be 40 to 50 miles off the Florida with hurricane-force wind speeds extending about 35 miles to the west.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham urged residents not to bet on safety just because the specific forecast track has the storm just a bit offshore. Don't focus on the track, he said, but the larger cone of possibility that includes landfall.

Making matters more touch-and-go is that with every new forecast, "we keep nudging (Dorian's track) a little bit to the left" which is closer to the Florida coast, Graham said.

Dorian is a powerful but small hurricane with hurricane force winds Sunday only extending 29 miles to the west, but they are expecting to grow a bit. That makes forecasting the storm's path — either just off the coast or skirting it — delicate and difficult.

President Donald Trump already declared a state of emergency and was briefed about what he called "a very, very powerful hurricane."

"We don't know where it's going to hit but we have an idea, probably a little bit different than the original course," Trump said. "But it can change its course again and it can go back more toward Florida."

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency, mobilizing state resources to prepare for potential storm effects. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said the state is likely to see heavy rains, winds and flooding.

The hurricane upended some Labor Day holiday weekend plans in the U.S.: Major airlines allowed travelers to change reservations without fees, big cruise lines rerouted their ships and Cumberland Island National Seashore off Georgia closed to visitors. Disney World and Orlando's other resorts held off announcing any closings.

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Associated Press writers Tim Aylen in McLean's Town Cay; Seth Borenstein in Washington; Michael Weissenstein in Havana, Cuba; Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Adriana Gómez Licón in Miami; Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida; Julie Walker in New York; Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland; and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed.

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For AP's complete coverage of the hurricane: https://apnews.com/Hurricanes

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