Weakened but still deadly, Hurricane Dorian crept up the Southeastern coast of the United States on Wednesday and millions were ordered to evacuate as forecasters said near-record levels of seawater and rain could inundate the area.
The Category 2 storm, which ravaged the Bahamas with more than a full day of devastating wind and rain, threatened to swamp low-lying regions from Georgia to southeastern Virginia as it moved northward.
Dorian appeared likely to get dangerously near Charleston, which is particularly vulnerable since it is located on a peninsula. A flood chart posted by the National Weather Service projected a combined high tide and storm surge around Charleston Harbor of 10.3 feet (3.1 meters); The record, 12.5 feet (4 meters), was set by Hugo in 1989.
Stores and restaurants were boarded up with wood and corrugated metal in the city’s historic downtown, and about 830,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders on the South Carolina coast. More than 400 people were in state-operated shelters statewide, and more were expected.
Mark Russell, a homeless U.S. Army veteran, said he had been in a shelter since Monday awaiting slow-moving Dorian.
“Once the rain comes and the wind hits, it’s going to blow left, right, in and out, and there’s not really a place that you can find” to avoid it, said Russell, 63.
In North Carolina, where authorities said an 85-year-old man died after falling from a ladder while getting ready for the storm, Gov. Roy Cooper warned about the threat of storm surge and flash flooding from heavy rains. The Outer Banks were particularly vulnerable.
Georgia’s coastal islands were also at risk, Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday.
“We are very worried, especially about the barrier islands getting cut off if we have these storm surges at the same time as … the high tides,” Kemp said.
Duke Energy said Dorian could cause more than 700,000 power outages in eastern regions of North Carolina and South Carolina, and Georgia Power said about 2,800 homes and businesses were already without electricity.
On Tybee Island, Georgia, just outside of Savannah, Debbie and Tony Pagan stacked beds and couches atop other furniture and blocked doors with sandbags and plastic sheeting before evacuating. Their home flooded during Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017, and it’s still relatively early in this year’s hurricane season.
“It’s a terrible way to live,” Debbie Pagan said. “We have the whole month of September and October to go. How would you like to be living on pins and needles?”
Also on Tybee, David and Sandy Cason gathered construction materials they had bought but not yet used to rebuild after earlier storms. Haggling with insurance adjustors delayed those repairs, they said.
“The uncertainty and the unknown are the worst part,” Sandy Cason said. “Just not knowing what’s going to be here when you get back.”
Weaker but bigger since it slammed the Bahamas with 185 mph (295 kph) winds earlier this week, Dorian was moving along Florida’s northeastern coast at 9 mph (15 kph) Wednesday afternoon. Forecasters said it had maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (169 kph) and was centered about 180 miles (290 kilometers) south of Charleston.
A hurricane warning covered about 500 miles (805 kilometers) of coastline, and authorities warned about 3 million residents to get away before the water and wind rose with Dorian’s approach.
The acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Peter Gaynor, said 4,000 federal responders; 6,000 National Guard members; and 40,000 utility workers were on standby for the hurricane.
“We are ready to go,” Gaynor said. “We’ll follow Dorian up the coast until it is not a threat to the U.S.”
With the threat to Florida easing and the danger shifting northward, Orlando, Florida’s international airport reopened, as did Walt Disney World and Universal. Dorian forced Disney Cruise Line to cancel one trip and delay the return of another ship to Port Canaveral, Florida.
The Navy ordered ships at its huge base in Norfolk, Virginia, to head out to sea for safety, and warplanes at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, were being moved inland to Ohio.
Associated Press reporters Russ Bynum in Tybee Island, Georgia; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; and Michael Schneider in Orlando, Florida, contributed to this report.