PORT SAINT LUCIE: Monster storm Dorian came to a near stand-still over the Bahamas on Monday, prolonging the agony as surging seawaters and hurricane winds made a shambles of low-lying island communities and spurred mass evacuations along the US east coast.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said reported “devastation is unprecedented” in the Abaco Islands, which on Sunday received the full brunt of Dorian as it came ashore as the most powerful storm ever to hit the archipelago.
“Our focus right now is rescue, recovery and prayer,” Minnis said on Twitter. The Category 5 storm’s toll was still untallied nearly 24 hours after it made landfall.
It was grinding its way eastward on Monday at a speed of one mile per hour (2 kph), settling in for an hours-long stay over Grand Bahama island, wielding 165-mph winds.
Fear gripped residents of Freeport, as winds tore off shutters and water began coming into homes, said Yasmin Rigby, reached by text in the Grand Bahama island’s main city.
“People who thought they were safe are now calling for help,” Rigby said. “My best friend’s husband is stuck in the roof of their house with 7 ft water below.” Initial Red Cross estimates were that 13,000 buildings may have been damaged or destroyed by Dorian, officials in Geneva said.
‘GET OUT NOW’
Images of wrecked and flooded homes in the Abacos appeared on social media and local press accounts.
Video posted on the website of the Bahamian newspaper Tribune 242 showed water up to the roofs of wooden houses in what appeared to be a coastal town. Capsized boats floated in muddy brown water dotted with wooden boards, tree branches and other debris.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center forecast an 18 to 23 foot storm surge above tide levels in parts of Grand Bahama, accompanied by large and destructive waves.
Water levels in the Abacos, swamped by a similar surge on Sunday, were expected to slowly subside.
“On this track, the core of extremely dangerous Hurricane Dorian will continue to pound Grand Bahama Island through much of Monday and Tuesday,” the centre said in its bulletin.
“The hurricane will move dangerously close to the Florida east coast on Monday night through Wednesday evening,” it said.
Florida, Georgia and South Carolina ordered hundreds of thousands of coastal residents to evacuate, beginning at noon on Monday.
“A slight wobble West would bring this Cat 5 storm on shore with devastating consequences,” said Florida Governor Rick Scott on Twitter.
“If you’re in an evacuation zone, get out NOW. We can rebuild your home. We can’t rebuild your life.”
‘MY LIFE’S MORE IMPORTANT’
Joe Lewis, a 41-year-old navy veteran, Florida, echoed the sentiment as he secured an air conditioner to his mobile home in Jensen Park, Florida — one of several in the area that were all-but emptied of their residents.
“There’s only one thing that’s important. It’s not what you own, it’s who you are, and your life. It doesn’t matter if I’ve got a million-dollar home, I leave it. My life’s more important,” he said as he prepared to join Floridians fleeing the storm.
In nearby Saint Lucie, Dan Peatle, 78, had likewise fled his retirement community to take shelter in a hotel.
“It makes me sick. I don’t like it,” he said as he stepped outside for air before the storm closes in.
“I’ve been through seven or eight of them since I’ve been in Florida, since ‘73. And, they’re all the same, you know. Tear everything up, put it back together.
“But, I chose to live here so I might as well live with it, you know.” In Washington, President Donald Trump met with his emergency management chiefs on Sunday and declared “this looks monstrous.”
“We expect that much of the eastern seaboard will be ultimately impacted and some of it very, very severely,” he said.
Florida issued its first evacuation orders in parts of Palm Beach, home of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, and Martin Counties.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster followed suit on Sunday ordering mandatory evacuations of the state’s coast — affecting some 800,000 people — while Georgia gave orders to evacuate six coastal counties. Both orders take effect on Monday at noon.
Neighbouring North Carolina has also declared a state of emergency.
“Given the strength and unpredictability of the storm, we must prepare for every possible scenario,” McMaster said.