By Nina Ruggiero
September 02, 2019
Florida prepares for Hurricane Dorian
Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Hurricane Dorian hit the northwestern Bahamas on Sunday as a category 5 and the strongest storm on record to occur in the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida.

"This is probably the saddest and worst day for me to address the Bahamian people," Hubert Minnis, Prime Minister of The Bahamas, tweeted after addressing the devastated nation Sunday night. "We are facing a hurricane that we have never seen in The Bahamas. Please pray for us."

The storm made landfall on Great Abaco Island with sustained winds of 185 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center, a speed that hasn’t been reached since a Labor Day 1935 storm in the Florida Keys. It has caused at least one death so far, the Miami Herald reported, and decimated homes, caused “catastrophic storm surge flooding,” and overturned cars, leaving residents fleeing for shelter.

Dorian was downgraded to a category 4 on Monday as it parked itself over Grand Bahama Island and continued to pelt the already battered nation with heavy rain and winds. The NHC warned that although the storm is weakening, it is still a “life-threatening situation” with hazards that include “wind gusts up to 190 mph and storm surge 18 to 23 feet above normal tide levels with higher destructive waves.”

“These hazards will continue over Grand Bahama Island during most of the day, causing extreme destruction on the island,” the warning added.

A hurricane warning has been extended, meanwhile, 180 miles up the Atlantic coast of Florida Monday as residents of the southeastern United States watch and hope the storm continues north as is projected, though its future remains dangerously uncertain. “It cannot be stressed enough that only a small deviation to the left of the NHC forecast could bring the core of the extremely dangerous hurricane onshore of the Florida east coast,” an NHC forecaster warned in a Monday briefing.

Evacuations have been ordered in coastal South Carolina and Georgia as well, and North Carolina declared a state of emergency as state officials warned of potential life-threatening flooding and tornadoes later into the week, The New York Times reported.

Dorian’s outer rain bands are moving over South Florida, and Palm Beach International Airport, in a mandatory evacuation zone, shut its doors Monday after telling travelers to “contact their airline for cancellations and updates on service.” Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport also closed “until further notice” on Monday, advising travelers do the same. Miami International Airport remains open and is monitoring the storm.