Hurricane Dorian has powered toward Florida with increasing fury in what is being billed as the biggest storm to hit the state’s east coast in nearly 30 years.
Forecasters have warned that no one is out of danger and Dorian could still wallop the state with “extremely dangerous” 140 mph (225 kph) winds and torrential rains on late Monday or early Tuesday, local time.
Hurricane Dorian has now been declared a Category 4 storm — the second-highest hurricane classification category — leaving millions of people in the crosshairs along with Walt Disney World and President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
But meteorologists say there’s a chance it will bank north at the last minute, hugging Florida’s coast and delivering only a glancing blow to the state instead of making landfall.
“There is hope,” Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said.
It came as terrifying images of the storm — taken by NASA cameras from space — have been released, showing Dorian’s brutal presence over the Atlantic Ocean.
President Donald Trump today warned that Hurricane Dorian could be an “absolute monster”.
“All indications are it’s going to hit very hard and it’s going to be very big,” Mr Trump said in a tweeted video.
The National Hurricane Centre said the storm is tracking at nearly 36km/h faster and a day later than previously forecast. The Centre called it “extremely dangerous”.
The hurricane centre’s projected track showed the storm hitting near West Palm Beach. But predicting its course with any confidence this far out is so difficult that the “cone of uncertainty” on the map covered nearly all of Florida’s 800-kilometre coastline, with Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando all within the danger zone.
Forecasters warned that the storm’s slow movement could subject the state to a drawn-out pommeling from wind, storm surge and heavy rain.
“If it makes landfall as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, that’s a big deal,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.
“A lot of people are going to be affected. A lot of insurance claims.”
With the storm’s track still unclear, no immediate mass evacuations were ordered.
Along Florida’s east coast, local governments began distributing sandbags, shoppers rushed to stock up on food, plywood and other emergency supplies at supermarkets and hardware stores, and motorists topped off their tanks and filled gasoline cans.
Some fuel shortages were reported in the Cape Canaveral area.
Josefine Larrauri, a retired translator, went to a Publix supermarket in Miami only to find empty shelves in the water section.
“I feel helpless because the whole coast is threatened,” she said. “What’s the use of going all the way to Georgia if it can land there?” In Vero Beach, about 225 kilometres up the coast from Miami, Lauren Harvey, 51, scoured the aisles of a nearby supermarket in search for non- perishable foods that could last her throughout the storm.
Ms Harvey, who works in medical billing, is going through a divorce and recently moved from the Philadelphia-area. She said she is not sure what to expect and is preparing to spend her very first hurricane alone.
“I just moved here, so I’m lost,” she said with a blank expression on her face, after grabbing a couple of water bottles from a scantily stocked shelf. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Feeding on the warm waters in the open ocean, Dorian steamed toward the US after rolling through the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where it inflicted less damage than feared but was blamed for at least one death.
Mr Trump had reignited his feud with the Mayor of San Juan Yulin Cruz, which started after Hurricane Maria, as Dorian approached Puerto Rico.
As of Friday morning, Dorian was centred about 410 kilometres northeast of the Bahamas. Its winds had increased slightly to 175km/h and the storm was moving northwest at 19km/h. Forecasters said it was expected to keep on strengthening and become a Category 3 later in the day. Coastal areas in the Southeast could get 15 to 30 centimetres of rain, with 38 centimetres in some places, triggering life-threatening flash floods, the hurricane centre said.
Also imperilled were the Bahamas, with Dorian’s expected track running just to the north of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.
Jeff Board, an associate administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warned that Dorian is likely to “create a lot of havoc with infrastructure, power and roads,” but gave assurances FEMA is prepared to handle it, even though the Trump administration is shifting hundreds of millions of dollars from FEMA and other agencies to deal with immigration at the Mexican border.
“This is going to be a big storm. We’re prepared for a big response,” Mr Byard said.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency, clearing the way to bring in more fuel and call out the National Guard if necessary, and Georgia’s governor followed suit.
Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian began rerouting their cruise ships. Major airlines began allowing travellers to change their reservations without a fee.
The hurricane season typically peaks between mid-August and late October. One of the most powerful storms ever to hit the US was on Labour Day 1935. The unnamed Category 5 hurricane crashed ashore along Florida’s Gulf Coast on September 2. It was blamed for over 400 deaths.