Hurricane Dorian struck the northern Bahamas as a catastrophic Category 5 storm Sunday, its record 185 mph winds ripping off roofs, overturning cars and tearing down power lines as hundreds hunkered down in schools, churches and shelters.
Dorian slammed into Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands at 12:40 p.m., and then made a second landfall near Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island at 2 p.m., after authorities made last-minute pleas for those in low-lying areas to evacuate.
“It’s devastating,” said Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism and Aviation. “There has been huge damage to property and infrastructure. Luckily, no loss of life reported.”
On Monday, Hurricane Dorian hovered over the Bahamas, pummeling the islands with a fearsome Category 4 assault that shredded roofs, hurled cars and forced even rescue crews to take shelter until the onslaught passes.
The storm’s top sustained winds fell slightly to 155 mph (250 kph), and its westward movement slowed almost to a standstill. The system crawled along Grand Bahama Island at just 1 mph (2 kph) and was expected to generate a storm surge of 18 to 23 feet (6 to 7 meters).
“We need you to bunker down,” Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for Grand Bahama, warned people. “It’s going to be another 10-12 hours that we’re going to be bombarded with this.”
Thompson and other officials said they received distress calls about rising floodwaters, but rescuers could not go out in the violent conditions.
“They are ready to get into those areas as soon as the weather subsides,” he said.
On Sunday, Dorian churned over Abaco Island with battering winds and surf and unleashed heavy flooding as people called radio stations and sent desperate messages on social media to find loved ones.
“We received catastrophic damage here in Abaco,” Parliament member Darren Henfield told reporters. He said officials did not have information yet on what happened in nearby cays. “We are in search-and-recovery mode. … Continue to pray for us.”
Information began emerging from other affected islands, with Bahamas Power and Light spokesman Quincy Parker telling radio station ZNS that there was a total blackout in New Providence, the archipelago’s most populous island. He also said the company’s office in Abaco island was flattened by the storm.
“The reports out of Abaco as everyone knows,” Parker said as he paused for a deep sigh, “were not good.”
Most people went to shelters as the storm neared. Tourist hotels shut down, and residents boarded up their homes. But many people were expected to be left homeless.
On Sunday, Dorian’s maximum sustained winds reached 185 mph (297 kph), with gusts up to 220 mph (354 kph), tying the record for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane to ever make landfall. That equaled the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, before storms were named. The only recorded storm that was more powerful was Hurricane Allen in 1980, with 190 mph (305 kph) winds, though it did not make landfall at that strength.
Forecasters said Dorian was likely to begin pulling away from the Bahamas early Tuesday and curving to the northeast parallel to the U.S. Southeast seaboard.
Harris, the government spokesman, said Dorian could 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 stayed open.
The archipelago is no stranger to hurricanes. Homes are required 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 those who can afford it. Risks are higher in poorer neighborhoods, with wooden homes in low-lying areas.
Dorian Strikes Bahamas with Record Fury as Category 5 Storm