PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) – With sustained winds topping 175 mph, Hurricane Dorian wrought a path of destruction across the Bahamas Sunday, ripping apart buildings and generating life-threatening floods that sent some residents fleeing to rooftops.
Dorian has been intensifying at an alarming rate in the past few days, feeding off warm Atlantic waters. National Hurricane Center meteorologist Lixion Avila called the ocean conditions “high octane fuel for hurricanes.”
The warm ocean temperature and prolonged periods without landfall have contributed to storm’s strengthening into one of the fiercest hurricanes ever to strike the Bahamas.
“Right now we’re getting calls about extreme wind conditions, severe flooding and some structural damage,” Lindsay Thompson from the Bahamas’ National Emergency Management Agency told Courthouse News Sunday.
Thompson said the center just received a call from a resident stuck on a roof, pleading for help. The wind conditions were so hazardous that emergency response teams could not immediately initiate a rescue.
“We are apprehensive. We are getting winds of 180 mph. That’s unheard of,” Thompson said.
Distributing supplies in the storm’s aftermath will be hard since the country is an archipelago, made up of multiple islands. Even if supplies are readily delivered from the mainland to a major Bahamas port, getting the materials to the smaller ports and airfields could be difficult, if not impossible, depending on the degree of damage around the destination.
“Eighty percent of what we consume is imported. It will certainly be a challenge to get supplies in after the storm,” Thompson said.
Hurricane Dorian will be battering the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama throughout Sunday, according to NEMA. The catastrophic impact could be prolonged by a slowdown in the hurricane’s pace as it moves northwest across the islands.
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force is on standby to deliver rations to communities in need.
The Bahamas, home to about 400,000 residents, has been battered by a string of severe tropical cyclones in recent years.
“We had Hurricane Joaquin in 2015, then Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017. We’ve had consecutive devastating storms. We were lucky in 2018, but this year it just seemed to come back with a vengeance,” Thompson said.
States of emergency meanwhile have been declared in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. The track going into mid-week is still unsure, with some models showing the storm’s western edge scraping along the entirety of the southeast U.S. coast, while others predict the hurricane will stay farther offshore.
“There is an increasing likelihood of strong winds and dangerous storm surge along the coasts Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina later this week. Residents in these areas should continue to monitor the progress of Dorian,” the National Hurricane Center stated Sunday.
Florida, for its part, is not out of the woods yet. Forecasters are telling Floridians to be prepared for heavy rain and hurricane-force winds Monday and Tuesday.
Though the eye wall for now is forecast to stay offshore of the Sunshine State, much of Florida’s east coast is expected to have at least tropical storm-force winds and heavy rainfall. Even a minor deviation in the storm track, to the west of the current forecast, would bring Dorian’s stronger winds perilously close to the state.
Florida counties began evacuation orders Sunday, with Palm Beach and Martin Counties ordering out thousands of residents in low-lying areas, mobile home communities and neighborhoods abutting the beach. Tropical storm conditions could arrive early Monday in these areas.
Florida had a lull of more than a decade between 2005 and 2016 with no major hurricane making landfall.
The past few years have not been so kind. Hurricane Irma caused widespread damage, wreaking havoc in the Florida Keys as a category 4 storm before reaching north Florida, where it caused historic flooding along the St. Johns River.
Last year, Hurricane Michael devastated Florida’s panhandle, bringing sustained winds of 160 mph. It was the first category 5 hurricane to hit the United States since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.