Dorian weakens but still destructive as it slowly turns to US coast



WASHINGTON/VERO BEACH, FLORIDA, Gretel Johnston and Shabtai Gold (dpa)- Hurricane Dorian weakened Tuesday to a strong Category 2 storm as it started moving towards US coastal areas, after stalling over the Bahamas and causing catastrophic damage in the past two days.
Dorian's strongest winds dropped to 175 kilometres per hour, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC), but the storm grew in size, with hurricane-force winds extending about 95 kilometres from its centre.




It also picked up speed, to about 7 km/h, after sitting nearly stationary over the Bahamas since making landfall there on Sunday as a category 5 storm, the NHC said in its 2 pm (1800 GMT) update.
While the storm's shift in direction means Florida most likely will be spared a direct hit, the NHC forecast said it would still move "dangerously close" to the southern US state.
Grand Bahama Island was also warned to remain vigilant. Though the storm is moving away, the NHC said that dangerous winds and a life-threatening storm surge will continue there through Tuesday evening.
The northern islands of the Bahamas have suffered the brunt of the massive storm so far. At least five people have died and more than 13,000 houses have been severely damaged or destroyed by the hurricane, officials said.
The full extent of the devastation on the Bahamas is not yet known, but some 60,200 people on Grand Bahama and Abaco may require food aid according to preliminary estimates, UN World Food Programme spokesman Herve Verhoosel said.
The hurricane unleashed massive flooding and fierce winds on the islands, tearing down power lines and ripping roofs off homes.
Residents in Florida meanwhile have been lying in wait for the slow-moving storm over the past two days, and preparing for a storm surge of up to 2 metres.
"I've been prepared since Sunday. I followed my plan," said Patrick Studer, who put boards over the windows in his house and got food, water and a generator ready.
Noting Dorian's slow speed, he said he had to get out Tuesday to keep from feeling crazy while cooped up inside his home in Indian County, but told dpa: "Now it looks like we are almost through this, unless something dramatic happens. We'll see tomorrow."
The native of central Florida said his advice to people who are not used to hurricanes is: "If you ain't prepared, get the hell out, now."
Another Florida resident, John Jupa, was with his wife buying bottled water at a shop near Vero Beach as they prepared to hunker down until the storm passes.
"We've been waiting and waiting for the storm, but now it looks like it is really coming in. Hopefully this will all be over by tomorrow," he told dpa, describing himself as "totally ready" having stockpiled water, food and propane gas for cooking inside his "very solid" house.
Jupa said he is most concerned about the storm surges, which are not like normal waves and can "destroy everything in their way," including cars and houses. "They are so powerful," he said.
The NHC's storm surge warning extends to an area of coastline about 880 kilometres long, from the middle of the Florida peninsula to the middle of South Carolina.
Authorities in Florida, concerned about looting, said that some areas will put curfews into effect on Tuesday night. There also is concern about power outages caused by downed trees.
Orlando's airport was closed and many flights in and out of other major Florida airports were affected, according to flightaware.com.
Dorian's centre at 2 pm was about 105 kilometres north of Freeport, the main city on Grand Bahama, and 170 kilometres east of Fort Pierce, Florida, the NHC said.
The storm was forecast to skirt the Florida coast late Tuesday and Wednesday before making a turn toward the north-east Thursday morning, the NHC said.
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Tuesday, September 3rd 2019
Gretel Johnston and Shabtai Gold (dpa)
           


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