(Bloomberg) -- Hurricane Dorian menaced the U.S. East Coast with devastating flooding and winds, lashing Florida after laying waste to the Bahamas in a brutal two-day battering.
The Category 2 hurricane was passing 90 miles east of Cape Canaveral, picking up speed as it tracks north-northwest on a path forecast to take it parallel to the coast over the rest of the week, according to the National Hurricane Center. While its wind speed has fallen, it's growing in size, with hurricane-force winds extending some 60 miles from the eye.
As U.S. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in North Carolina, a storm-surge watch was extended northward into Virginia, meaning there could be life-threatening flooding from rising water levels in the next 48 hours. The storm is gradually turning northwards and remains on track to pass "dangerously close" to Florida and Georgia through Wednesday, before moving near or even over the coast of the Carolinas through Friday, according to the Hurricane Center.
"Florida will likely dodge the worst impacts, although coastal areas will have long stretches of tropical-storm force winds later today and tomorrow," said Todd Crawford, lead meteorologist at The Weather Co., an IBM business. The storm, though, could still make landfall north of Florida, he said.
In the Bahamas, Dorian has left many of the nation's islands devastated and killed at least seven people, a death toll Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said he expects to rise. Parts of Abaco islands "are decimated" and there is "severe flooding, there is severe damage to homes, businesses and other buildings and infrastructure," he said at a press conference.
"I don't think there has been a populated area in the entire Atlantic basin in the climatological record that has experienced the severity and the intensity of impacts that Grand Bahama Island and Abaco have experienced in the past two days," said Ryan Truchelut, president of Weather Tiger in Tallahassee, Florida.
On Tuesday, the Bahamas government delivered an "urgent plea" for owners of boats and jet skis to help out with post-hurricane rescue operations for residents stranded by flood waters.
Dorian's maximum sustained winds remain at about 110 mph, with hurricane conditions expected to hit Florida later on Wednesday. Coastal regions as far as North Carolina are in danger of life-threatening inundation over the next 36 hours and up to Poquoson in Virginia over the next 48 hours, according to the latest advisory.
In preparing for the storm to come near their shores, local and state governments in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas have ordered coastline residents and businesses to begin evacuations.
"We know that these evacuations are inconvenient, difficult and sometimes costly," North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said in a statement. "But we must realize the potential deadly cost of refusing to evacuate when told."
Dorian is weakening in part because it has exhausted its supply of warm ocean water by sitting over the same spot for days, Truchelut said. He doesn't see the storm -- pulled along by a low pressure system -- moving much farther west, but he said the eastern North and South Carolina are still very much at risk.
"The story of Dorian will be written in two parts," The Weather Co.'s Crawford said. "First, the utter devastation and humanitarian crisis in parts of the Bahamas and, second, the surprise major impacts in the Southeast and Northeast U.S." Winds that occur in the coastal areas of the Carolinas, mid-Atlantic, and even Cape Cod, may end up being stronger than what Florida will get, he said.
Dare County, North Carolina, which includes much of the tourist-friendly Outer Banks, issued a mandatory evacuation for visitors starting Tuesday and for residents beginning Wednesday. President Donald Trump declared an emergency for North Carolina retroactive to Sunday, clearing the way for his administration to coordinate disaster relief efforts as needed, according to a White House statement.
Other parts of the state's coastline were also bracing for the storm. Ocean-going commercial vessels and barges greater than 500 gross tons should make plans for departing North Carolina ports, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement early Tuesday local time.
NextEra Energy Inc.'s Florida Power & Light utility has restored electricity service to roughly 60,000 customers as Dorian neared the coast, chief communications officer Dave Reuter told a Monday morning press conference. Much of the damage, he said, had come from vegetation or wind-borne debris hitting power lines. "We are still not in the clear," Reuter said.
The FPL website showed 3,330 customers without power as of 11:17 a.m. Tuesday.
To map assets in Hurricane Dorian's path, click here.
(Updates Bahamas deaths in fifth paragraph.)
--With assistance from Sharon Cho, David R. Baker, Will Wade, Todd Shields, Josh Wingrove, Alyza Sebenius, Michael Riley, Bill Lehane, Sheela Tobben, Jonathan Levin and Andrew Janes.
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