Aug. 31 (UPI) — Residents of the Bahamas were bracing for Hurricane Dorian’s arrival Sunday morning as people around 200 miles west along the entire Florida coast were anxiously watching the storm’s path.
Residents farther up the Atlantic Coast — from Georgia to the Carolina — also became uneasy as the storm made a slight northerly turn Friday.
The hurricane, which reached Category 4 on Friday and gained stronger with maximum sustained wind gusts around 150 mph Saturday, is interfering with Labor Day weekend plans. Visitors and residents are heading out of the Florida instead of enjoying time in the Sunshine State.
And that applies to the Bahamas, too.
As early as 4 or 5 a.m. Sunday, Dorian is expected to approach the more than 700 mainly low-lying islands in the Bahamas, including the island chain of Abaco and the northernmost island of Grand Bahama, Basil Dean, deputy director of Bahamas Department of Meteorology, told CNN on Saturday.
“And from there onwards, things will go downhill as the hurricane force winds are expected to follow,” he said.
Dean said the islands are bracing “for the arrival of rain and we are just continuing to urge those who may still be near those coastal areas to move inland to a safer place.”
In 2016, Hurricane Matthew led to the “total devastation” of Grand Bahama.
Dorian is headed to the Bahamas, but on Friday, the forecast track shifted east and it no longer shows landfall in Florida. But the state remains in the “cone of uncertainty” as life-threatening storm conditions of hurricane force winds, storm surge and flash flooding remain.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urged residents not to let their guard down.
“I would remind people as you’re looking at these forecasts, a bump in one direction or the other can have really significant ramifications,” DeSantis said during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center on Saturday morning in Tallahassee. “If it bumps further east, that obviously is positive; if it bumps a little west, then you’re looking at really, really significant impacts. So don’t make any assumptions, remain vigilant and be prepared.”
DeSantis said the revised track means emergency response teams can be focused toward the east coast instead of throughout the state.
“Obviously we’re going to have a busy day today,” Ashley Davis, state Emergency Response Team operations chief, told emergency officials Saturday. “I just don’t want to see happy feet just yet. We’ve got to prepare for the worst.”
President Donald Trump, who canceled his trip to Poland because of the impending storm, on Friday night warned residents in a post on Twitter that “this is an extremely dangerous storm, please prepare and be safe!”
He said: “I am monitoring Hurricane Dorian and receiving frequent briefings and updates. It is important to heed the directions of your State and Local Officials.”
Trump, who spent the night at Camp David in Maryland, plans to attend a hurricane briefing Sunday at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C.
He also retweeted storm preparedness tips from FEMA, American Red Cross and the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
“We’re hoping that it maybe makes a right and goes up north, but that’s about a 5 percent chance,” Trump told reporters Friday before departing Marine One from the White House. “It’s not looking good. And it’s one of the biggest hurricanes we’ve seen in a long time. A long time. So it could be very devastating.”
On Friday, Trump declared a state state of emergency in Florida upon a recommendation from Florida’s governor.
DeSantis, who was elected governor last November, has been traveling around the state meeting with county and state officials during briefs.
He has authorized the activation of 2,500 Florida National Guard troops, with an additional 1,500 awaiting orders.
On the governor’s website is a detailed list of preparations.
No evacuations — voluntary or mandatory — have been ordered yet in Florida.
On Friday night, Brevard County in central Florida ordered the first evacuations — at 8 a.m. Sunday for barrier islands, low-lying and flood-prone areas, mobile homes and special needs residents.
The evacuation applies to areas from Kennedy Space Center south to the county line. KSC’s crawler-transported took eight hours Friday to move the mobile launcher from Launch Pad 39B to the Vehicle Assembly Building.
Farther south in Martin County, mandatory evacuations have been ordered to residences on Hutchinson Island, Jupiter Island and Sewall’s Point by 10 a.m. It will also apply to residents living in manufactured or mobile homes, as well as homes in low-lying areas, officials said.
Shelters also will begin to open up and down the eastern Florida coast.
Residents also have been heading north on Interstate 95, Interstate 74 and Florida’s Turnpike to move away from the path of Dorian.
Drivers are allowed to travel on the shoulder on interstates and tollroads, and tolls will be lifted once evacuation orders come from local counties. The state is not planning to turn highways into all one-way traffic when evacuation orders are issued — a process known as “contraflow,” the governor said Friday.
Drivers encounters long lines at gas stations with many stations’ tanks empty. GasBuddy lists gasoline availability.
DeSantis said Florida Highway Patrol is escorting fuel trucks to resupply filling stations. Fuel comes into Port Everglades near Fort Lauderdale.
“There are some parts of the state where you have major lines for gas, cars are lined up,” he said. “It makes it more difficult for the trucks to get in and replenish the gas supply, so I think the escorts will help with that.
“We have a lot of fuel in Florida, it’s just we have limited capacity to bring it from the ports to the gas stations because you can only have so many trucks doing that.”
Airlines have not canceled flights yet though many airlines, including Delta, Spirit, American and Southwest, are offering waived change fees or for passengers.
None of the airports in south Florida announced plans to shut down but Orlando International Airport announced on Friday it would close early Monday morning.
Few seats remain to fly out of the airports — and those available are at a high price — as travel is heavy during the Labor Day weekend.
Because of the holiday, schools and many businesses won’t be open.
But some have already announced plans to shut down Tuesday, including the University of Florida in Gainesville, which is inland the central part of the state. In addition, Florida State moved its football game Saturday from a neutral site in Jacksonville to its home in Tallahassee.
Cruise lines also have been altering plans. Though no trips have been canceled this weekend itineraries have shifted, including avoiding the Bahamas and private islands.
Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, based out of Port of Palm Beach, offered a discounted charge of $ 69 per person, per day, plus tax, aboard Grand Celebration for people wishing to evacuate from the area. Normally the ship travels to the Bahamas and a revised itinerary wasn’t announced before the trip.
Residents planning to ride out the storm have been stocking up on essentials for several days, including bottled water, propane, batteries and food.
Florida state law prohibits excessive increases in the price of essential commodities as a direct result of an officially declared emergency.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Ashley Moody activated Florida’s Price Gouging Hotline for consumers in some counties as DeSantis declared a state of emergency. On Friday, it was extended to all 67 counties.
Violators are subject to civil penalties of $ 1,000 per violation and up to a total of $ 25,000 for multiple violations committed in a single 24-hour period.
“I have activated Florida’s Price Gouging Hotline in an effort to prevent gouging, so Floridians can afford essential items now,” Moody said in as news release.
At the opening of business Friday, Moody said her office had received 568 complaints.
Desantis said the state will have more than 1 million gallons of water and 1.8 million meals ready for distribution.