(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 “won’t budge” from its location 25 miles from Freeport, according to a 1 a.m. advisory from the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Its winds have slowed to 125 mph from a high of 185 mph, which falls into the range of a Category 3 storm. The storm has inflicted huge damage in the Bahamas and killed five on one island, according to Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, as it ripped off roofs, overturned cars and tore down power lines.
A slow north-westward motion is expected to occur early Tuesday, according to an earlier 11 p.m. advisory. The hurricane will then move dangerously close to Florida’s east coast late Tuesday through Wednesday evening, very near Georgia and South Carolina coasts Wednesday night and Thursday, and near or over the North Carolina coast late Thursday and Friday.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered residents in coastal areas to flee before Dorian arrives, according to state web sites. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said residents in his state should heed evacuation orders from local leaders.
“We know that these evacuations are inconvenient, difficult and sometimes costly,” Cooper said in a televised statement. “But we must realize the potential deadly cost of refusing to evacuate when told.”
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 Minnis said in a post on Twitter. “Our focus right now is 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 was 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 now extend up the Florida coast into Georgia and forecasters and the ocean, pushed by Dorian, could start inundating the shoreline and rivers by Tuesday.
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 1,300 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 airports.
Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, including for the Mar-a-Lago club owned by U.S. President Donald Trump, which he often uses as a “Winter White House.” While Dorian is forecast to stay offshore there will be extensive damage along the coast from storm surge, high winds and flooding rains.
To map assets in Hurricane Dorian’s path, click here.
(Adds new wind speed, location of storm.)
–With assistance from Sharon Cho, David Baker, Will Wade, Todd Shields, Josh Wingrove, Alyza Sebenius, Michael Riley, Bill Lehane, Sheela Tobben, Jonathan Levin, Serene Cheong and Andrew Janes.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tina Davis at [email protected], Reg Gale, Catherine Traywick
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