RALEIGH — Weather-tested residents along the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas are using their past experience with intense storms to guide them as they safeguard their homes and decide whether to heed evacuation orders.
As of Tuesday morning, locations along the entire N.C. coast were under evacuation orders. Dare County was under a Hurricane Watch with mandatory evacuation orders in effect. Vacationers were ordered out of the county by sundown on Tuesday with residents able to remain until 6 p.m. Wednesday. UNC Wilmington closed its campus at 5 p.m. Tuesday and will be closed through Friday at 5 p.m. East Carolina University canceled classes for Thursday and Friday.
Gov. Roy Cooper has ordered mandatory evacuations from Kure Beach to the Outer Banks. During a news conference Tuesday, Cooper said, “do not try to ride this out.”
Dorian weakened to a Category 2 hurricane Tuesday after slamming into the Bahamas as a terrifying Category 5 storm with 185 mph winds.
The threat of a direct hit on Florida had all but evaporated, but Dorian was expected to pass dangerously close to Georgia and South Carolina — and perhaps strike North Carolina — on Thursday or Friday.
The U.S. military also took precautions Tuesday as Hurricane Dorian threatens ships and planes based on Virginia’s coast.
U.S. Air Force Col. David Lopez said in a statement that F-22 Raptor fighter jets and T-38 Talon training planes will leave Langley Air Force Base in Hampton. The planes will fly to the Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base outside Columbus, Ohio.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy is ordering ships on Virginia’s coast to prepare to leave if necessary.
Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis said in a statement that ships at the world’s largest Navy base in Norfolk and other nearby installations will be ready to depart within 24 hours.
By heading out to sea, the ships will better protect themselves and reduce significant potential damage to piers, airplanes and other pieces of infrastructure.
In the Bahamas, which were pounded as Dorian stalled with Category 5 winds, relief officials reported scenes of utter ruin and rushed to deal with an unfolding humanitarian crisis in the wake the storm. Dorian is the most powerful storm on record ever to hit the islands. At least five deaths were reported, with the full scope of the disaster still unknown.
The storm’s punishing winds and muddy brown floodwaters destroyed or severely damaged thousands of homes, crippled hospitals and trapped people in attics.
“It’s total devastation. It’s decimated. Apocalyptic. It looks like a bomb went off,” said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a local hurricane relief organization and flew over the Bahamas’ hard-hit Abaco Island. “It’s not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again.”
She said her representative on Abaco told her that “there’s a lot more dead” and that the bodies were being gathered up.
Emergency authorities, meanwhile, struggled to reach victims amid conditions too dangerous even for rescue workers, and urged people to hang on.
“We wanted to go out there, but that’s not a risk we’re capable of taking,” Tammy Mitchell of the Bahamas’ National Emergency Management Agency told ZNS Bahamas radio station. “We don’t want people thinking we’ve forgotten them. … We know what your conditions are. We know if you’re stuck in an attic.”
Practically parking over a portion of the Bahamas for a day and a half, Dorian pounded the northern islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama with winds up to 185 mph (295 kph) and torrential rain before finally moving into open waters Tuesday on a course for Florida. Its winds were down to a still-dangerous 110 mph (175 kph).
In the Bahamas, Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said more than 13,000 houses, or about 45% of the homes in Grand Bahama and Abaco, were believed to have been severely damaged or destroyed. U.N. officials said more than 60,000 people on the hard-hit islands will need food, and the Red Cross said some 62,000 will need clean drinking water.
“What we are hearing lends credence to the fact that this has been a catastrophic storm and a catastrophic impact,” he said.
Lawson Bates, a staffer for Arkansas-based MedicCorps, flew over Abaco and said: “It looks completely flattened. There’s boats way inland that are flipped over. It’s total devastation.”
The Red Cross authorized a half-million dollars for the first wave of disaster relief, Cochrane said. And U.N. humanitarian teams stood ready to go into the stricken areas to help assess the damage and the country’s needs, U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said. The U.S. government also sent a disaster response team.
Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, with a combined population of about 70,000, are known for their marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts. To the south, the Bahamas’ most populous island, New Providence, which includes the capital city, Nassau, and has over a quarter-million people, suffered little damage.
The U.S. Coast Guard airlifted at least 21 people injured on Abaco. Rescuers also used jet skis to reach some people as choppy, coffee-colored floodwaters reached roofs and the tops of palm trees.
“We will confirm what the real situation is on the ground,” Health Minister Duane Sands said. “We are hoping and praying that the loss of life is limited.”
Sands said Dorian rendered the main hospital on Grand Bahama unusable, while the hospital in Marsh Harbor in Abaco was in need of food, water, medicine and surgical supplies. He said crews were trying to airlift five to seven kidney failure patients from Abaco who had not received dialysis since Friday.
The Grand Bahama airport is under 6 feet of water.
NASA satellite imagery through Monday night showed some places in the Bahamas had gotten as much as 35 inches of rain, said private meteorologist Ryan Maue.
Parliament member Iram Lewis said he feared waters would keep rising and stranded people would lose contact with officials as their cellphone batteries died.
Dorian also left one person dead in its wake in Puerto Rico before slamming into the Bahamas on Sunday. It tied the record for the strongest Atlantic storm ever to hit land, matching the Labor Day hurricane that struck Florida Gulf Coast in 1935, before storms were given names.