Hurricane Dorian strengthened to an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm on Friday as it moved toward the Bahamas and the US state of Florida, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
The storm’s winds rose to a howling 130 mph (215 kph) as Dorian gained new strength while crossing warm Atlantic waters. The hurricane could wallop the state with even higher winds and torrential rains late Monday or early Tuesday, with millions of people in the crosshairs, along with Walt Disney World and President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
Tourists scrambled to leave the Bahamas on Friday as Hurricane Dorian approached its northwestern islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco, eager to take off before the international airport was to shut down at 10 p.m.
Grand Bahama and Abaco are hubs for the Bahamas’ thriving tourism industry. The archipelago nation owes nearly 30% of its direct gross domestic product and half of its jobs to the industry, Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Ministry of Tourism, said in an interview.
“Anything that could derail that is really very concerning,” Jibrilu said.
The country is “still reeling” from Hurricane Matthew, which ripped into the Bahamas in 2016, she added, noting that some hotels took years to make repairs.
In a televised news conference Friday afternoon, Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Dorian was moving slowly, extending the islands’ exposure to the storm.
“This hurricane will produce catastrophic results,” said Captain Stephen Russell, director of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), as he urged residents of Abaco and Grand Bahama to accelerate storm preparations.
Still, with Dorian days away and its track uncertain, Disney and other major resorts held off announcing any closings, and Florida authorities ordered no immediate mass evacuations.
"Sometimes if you evacuate too soon, you may evacuate into the path of the storm if it changes," Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
Homeowners and businesses rushed to cover their windows with plywood. Supermarkets ran out of bottled water, and long lines formed at gas stations, with fuel shortages reported in places. The governor said the Florida Highway Patrol would begin escorting fuel trucks to help them get past the lines of waiting motorists and replenish gas stations.
The hurricane season typically peaks between mid-August and late October. One of the most powerful storms ever to hit the U.S. was on Labor Day 1935. The unnamed Category 5 hurricane crashed ashore along Florida's Gulf Coast on Sept. 2. It was blamed for over 400 deaths.