As Hurricane Dorian churned its way over the northern Bahamas early Monday, scenes of devastation emerging from the Abaco Islands revealed the destructive fury of one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record.
Packing 185 mile-per-hour winds, Dorian first hit the Bahamas’ Abaco Islands on Sunday and then took aim at Grand Bahama Island as it crept slowly westward. Residents of the Abaco Islands, who endured hours of the raging storm on Sunday, struggled to take stock of the damage on Monday.
Images and video from the Abaco Islands showed floodwaters swirling just below battered rooftops, submerged cars and floating debris from damaged houses.
[Follow live updates on Hurricane Dorian here.]
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center described Dorian, a category 5 storm with winds gusting as high as 220 m.p.h., as “catastrophic.”
As it approached the Bahamas, the storm grew larger, with winds extending up to 45 miles from the center. Its core was expected to move slowly — six m.p.h. — across Grand Bahama Island throughout much of Monday. Along with the storm surge, Dorian was forecast to dump as much as two feet of rain in some areas.
“These hazards will cause extreme destruction in the affected areas and will continue for several hours,” the hurricane center warned late Sunday.
In a region that prides itself on withstanding powerful storms, the Bahamas has revamped its building code and stepped up enforcement to prepare for such storms. But the combination of Dorian’s slow pace, furious wind speeds and heavy rainfall with the low-lying islands’ vulnerability to flooding raised fears of huge losses.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, who had warned that 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes could be affected, urged residents of the Grand Bahama Island on Sunday to move to safer ground in the main city of Freeport. On the Abaco Islands, parts of the main city of Marsh Harbour flooded.
“As a physician, I have been trained to withstand many things — but never anything like this,” Dr. Minnis said during a news conference. “This is a deadly storm and a monster storm.”
But not everybody was moving to higher ground. Frederick Smith, a lawyer who had promised to ride the storm out at his beachfront home in Freeport, was unmoved by the prime minister’s appeals, even after he saw the destruction in the Abaco Islands.
“I built my home to survive,” he said by telephone as he waited for the storm to hit. “We’re a set of pirate islands, we survive.
“Unfortunately a lot of people are going to have their lives disrupted,” he said. “It is very challenging and difficult for many people.”