(ABC NEWS) — Hurricane Dorian continued to hover over the Bahamas early Tuesday morning, but forecasters say the now-Category 3 storm will move “dangerously close” to Florida’s east coast in the coming hours.
The monstrous storm has been blamed for the deaths of at least five people on the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas, where it touched down Sunday afternoon as a Category 5, the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record. Dorian then came to a grinding halt over Grand Bahama, the northernmost island of the Bahamas archipelago where it has remained at a virtual standstill since Monday morning.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis has described the devastation from “destructive Dorian” as “unprecedented and extensive.” Many homes and businesses have been “completely or partially destroyed,” he said.
“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy in parts of our northern Bahamas,” Minnis told reporters at a press conference Monday.
Residents of the Bahamas who have chosen to shelter in place for previous major hurricanes and decided to ride out Dorian said they’ve never seen anything like it.
“There’s houses that are torn apart. There’s tree limbs in the road. There’s no green shrubbery left. It’s just shredded,” Bruce Sawyer, a resident of the hard-hit Abaco Islands, told ABC News in an interview Monday on “Good Morning America.”
“I think when the eyewall hit, we had 200-plus mile per hour winds that ripped everybody’s roofs and destroyed everybody’s structure and houses,” he added. “Probably one of the most terrifying things that ever happened. The windows were caving. The doors were caving in. I honestly thought that our roof was going to be ripped off as well.”
Hurricane Dorian has since been downgraded to a Category 3, with maximum sustained winds near 120 miles per hour.
In its latest updated advisory, the National Hurricane Center urged residents on Grand Bahama island to stay in shelter as they continue to experience Dorian’s eyewall, which surrounds the eye of the storm and packs the most damaging winds and intense rainfall. Residents there could see wind gusts of up to 150 mph and a storm surge of 10 to 15 feet above normal tide levels with even higher destructive waves throughout Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The latest forecast models show Hurricane Dorian beginning to move north later Tuesday morning and afternoon. The storm will then come “dangerously close” to Florida’s east coast Tuesday night through Wednesday evening, very near the Georgia and South Carolina shorelines Wednesday night into Thursday and then near or over North Carolina’s coast Thursday night, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Dorian is expected to gradually weaken down to a Category 2 hurricane as it nears Wilmington, North Carolina. On this current forecast track, the worst of the storm will stay out to sea, but gusty winds and storm surge will remain a threat to the southeastern U.S. coast. The heaviest rainfall is expected to hit the coastal Carolinas, where up to 15 inches of rain is possible in isolated locations.
Mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders have been issued for dozens of coastal communities from South Florida to the Carolinas. Meanwhile, thousands of flights have been canceled and some airports have been shuttered as the hurricane approaches the United States.
Pete Gaynor, the acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told ABC News that his greatest concern was flooding and storm surge, which he said are responsible for 90 percent of all deaths from natural disasters.
“What we really want to get across this morning is that time is running out to make preparations.” Gaynor said in an interview Monday on “Good Morning America.”
“The unpredictability, the uncertainty of where Dorian will go is something that we’re all anxious to find out,” he added, “but you have to be prepared for any scenario.”