(Bloomberg) — Hurricane Dorian is continuing to bash the Bahamas but its winds are weakening as the storm widens out, and forecasters are looking for signs it’s ready to turn north on a run up the U.S. East Coast rather than slamming head on into Florida.
Dorian is continuing to move forward at just 1 mile per hour, according to a 2 p.m. advisory by the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It’s winds have slowed to 150 mph from a high of 185 mph but it remains a dangerous Category 4 storm that’s in the process of inflicting colossal damage to property and infrastructure in the Bahamas.
Located about 25 miles (56 kilometers) from Freeport, Dorian has ripped off roofs, overturned cars and torn down power lines across the chain of islands. But there are indications that a low pressure trough is starting to exert influence over Dorian, and the storm could soon start a northward turn, said Jim Rouiller, chief meteorologist at the Energy Weather Group.
“Even though it is going to come dangerously close to the coast, it isn’t going to punch deep inland,” Rouiller said by telephone.
A further widening of the storm means that even if it does head north up the coast, its effects could still reach far into Florida with heavy flooding rains, and a significant storm surge. Still, that’s better than a strong hurricane driving deep into the state, Rouiller said.
While the current forecast keeps Dorian’s center offshore, forecasters are keeping a close eye for changes, according to Ken Graham, the hurricane center’s director. “It doesn’t take much, a little wobble, a little wiggle and you have hurricane-force winds on shore,” he said in a Facebook update.
In the meantime, Dorian continues to devastate Grand Bahama, one of the nation’s northernmost islands, and has caused widespread flooding in many of the islands of the northwest and central Bahamas, the National Emergency Management Agency said in a bulletin Monday.
Based on reports out of Abaco, one of the first islands to be hit, “the devastation is unprecedented,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said in a post on Twitter. “Our focus right now sis rescue, recovery and prayer,” he wrote.
Dorian will cause at least $25 billion of insurance losses, according to analysts at UBS Group AG, the costliest of any natural disaster since 2017. Depending on whether it hits the eastern coast of Florida in the next few days, the storm could cost as much as $40 billion, they said.
Roughly 100,000 of the Bahamas population of 370,000 live in areas that are expected to be hit. Based on preliminary reports out of Abaco, where landfall occurred, “the devastation is unprecedented,” Minnis said on Twitter.
An 8-year-old boy drowned in Abaco, his grandmother told local television station Eyewitness News. Authorities have not confirmed the death, the station said. The Bahamas Press said that Grand Bahama International Airport is under 5 feet of water.
The damage to some of the region’s large tourist hotels will likely hit revenue in a country where tourism accounts for about half of gross domestic product, said Andrew Stanners, Investment Director for Aberdeen Standard Investments, which owns the nation’s dollar bonds. The Bahamas has recently taken “strident steps” to improve government finances, which leave it better placed to repair the devastation, he said.
There are also two major petroleum terminals in the Bahamas. Buckeye Partners LP operates a large crude and refined products terminal at Freeport, roughly 100 miles from the Florida coast, and Equinor ASA has a terminal in nearby South Riding Point. The Buckeye terminal has a capacity of 26 million barrels of crude, gasoline and diesel, the Equinor terminal has a storage capacity of 6.75 million barrels of crude and condensate.
Buckeye media contacts didn’t respond to multiple emails seeking comment. Equinor was in the process of shutting its terminal ahead of Dorian, the company said.
The Bahamian government was preparing orders to allow donated relief supplies to move quickly to areas that need it most, local Eyewitness News reported.
In Florida, storm surge warnings extended northward along the Florida coast to the Flagler/Volusia County line and a watch has been posted along the Georgia coast to the Savannah River. A hurricane warning remains in effect for the Jupiter Inlet, also up to Volusia/Brevard.
In a briefing, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Florida utilities have assembled 17,000 personnel to help restore power quickly as needed. He said 72 nursing homes and assisted living centers along the coast have been evacuated, and hospitals were starting to evacuate as well.
Meanwhile, airlines have canceled 1,500 flights within, into and out of the U.S. today, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking company. Fort Lauderdale and Orlando are the two hardest hit.
Fluctuations in weather patterns across the U.S. and Atlantic mean Dorian could hit Florida or further up the coast in Georgia or the Carolinas later this week — or not make landfall at all. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, including for the Mar-a-Lago club owned by Donald Trump, which the president often uses as a “Winter White House.”
“Life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds are expected along portions of the Florida east coast through mid-week,” Lixion Avila, a senior hurricane specialist at the center wrote in an analysis. “Only a slight deviation to the left of the official forecast would bring the core of Dorian near or over the Florida east coast.”
To map assets in Hurricane Dorian’s path, click here.
–With assistance from Sharon Cho, David Baker, Will Wade, Todd Shields, Josh Wingrove, Alyza Sebenius, Michael Riley, Bill Lehane, Sheela Tobben and Jonathan Levin.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tina Davis at [email protected], Reg Gale, Catherine Traywick
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