Hurricane Dorian, grown to reach the highest category, the 5th, hit the Bahamas on Sunday with winds of up to 290 kilometers per hour, the highest ever recorded in the northwest of the archipelago. The authorities called for the evacuation of residents from low-lying areas, more exposed to rising waters and torrential rains. The neighbors were sheltered in schools and churches, unsafe shelters on mostly flat islands, with barely high places to protect themselves from flooding.
A little further to the northwest, on the coasts of Florida and the Carolinas, hundreds of thousands of people followed with concern the evolution of the hurricane. Experts indicated that, after hitting the Bahamas, it would move northeastward, probably losing strength. The forecast is that it travels, without entering fully on the US east coast, the coast of the states of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina (in the latter the mandatory evacuation of more than 800,000 people has been ordered). But the authorities warned that, although the Dorian remains at sea and does not get to land, its effects, in the form of strong waves, winds and storms, could dangerously affect coastal towns.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) of the United States, based in Miami, described as “catastrophic” the hurricane passing through the Bahamas, where it began to be noticed at noon this Sunday (local time). “A prolonged period of storm surge, hurricane winds and heavy rains are capable of producing flash floods with a risk to life,” said the NHC.
Category 5 implies that the cyclone blows at least 252 kilometers per hour. It is the maximum of the Saffir-Simpson scale, which classifies these atmospheric phenomena according to the speed of their winds. The hurricane hits the Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands, in the northwest of the archipelago. The area is not one of the biggest focuses of tourism, which is one of the main economic activities of the archipelago. In fact, many of the hotels were already closed for the off season. Numerous airports in the area have closed.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Saturday that up to 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes could be affected. “I want you to remember: houses, structures can be replaced. Lives cannot,” Minnis warned at a press conference. Authorities feared that some neighbors would not listen to their instructions and decided to try to resist the hurricane locked in their homes.
Often hit by hurricanes, the Bahamas archipelago has construction requirements that force houses to provide metal structures to secure roofs against category 4 hurricanes, according to The Associated Press. The regulations are usually met in those homes whose owners can afford it, but the risks are much greater in the poorest communities, which normally inhabit wooden houses in lower areas.
The speed of the winds, which reached 290 kilometers per hour, places the Dorian in the fourth place of the strongest winds in the Atlantic since they began to register systematically in 1950.
The hurricane is advancing at low speed and is not expected to surpass the Bahamas until this Monday afternoon. The forecast is that it be located on the east coast of Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday, moving slowly north until it is placed on Thursday or Friday before the Carolinas. “We are not yet out of the forest,” said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who noted that some forecast models place Dorian closer to the state’s shores. “We must be prepared and remain vigilant,” he said. In Palm Beach County, the evacuation of caravans, precarious homes and areas of especially low altitude were ordered.
Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina, as well as 12 counties in Georgia, have declared states of emergency, mobilizing state resources to prepare to combat the effects of Dorian. “In addition to Florida, also South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama are very likely to be impacted (much) stronger than expected. It seems one of the greatest hurricanes in history. It’s already in category 5. Be careful, and God bless everyone! ”President Trump tweeted.
With information from El País.