Dorian forecast to become highly dangerous Category 4 hurricane

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis talks to the media during a news conference as Hurricane Dorian approaches the state, at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, U.S. August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Marco Bello

(Reuters) – Hurricane Dorian is forecast to strengthen and become a highly dangerous Category 4 hurricane on Sunday, threatening the Atlantic coast of central and south Florida, the National Hurricane Center said on Thursday.

Spurred on by warm Atlantic waters, Dorian is predicted to pack winds reaching 130 mph (209 kph) in 72 hours, the Miami-based forecasting center said.

That would make it a Category 4 storm, the second-strongest type on the Saffir-Simpson scale for measuring hurricane intensity. The center describes Category 4 storms as capable of causing “catastrophic damage” including severe damage to well-built homes. It said in such storms, “Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed.”

Dorian is likely to make landfall on Florida’s eastern coast on Monday, before lingering over central Florida on Tuesday, forecasters at the hurricane center said in an advisory.

Currently a Category 1 hurricane, Dorian took aim at the Bahamas and the Florida coast on Thursday after sideswiping the Caribbean without doing major damage. Dorian is expected to strengthen and slam the Bahamas and the southeastern United States with rain, strong winds and life-threatening surf over the next few days.

U.S. President Donald Trump urged Floridians to heed official warnings. Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency on Wednesday and asked residents along the state’s east coast to stock up with at least seven days worth of supplies such as food and water.

“Hurricane Dorian looks like it will be hitting Florida late Sunday night,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Be prepared and please follow State and Federal instructions, it will be a very big Hurricane, perhaps one of the biggest!”

The U.S. Coast Guard said all pleasure boats at the Port of Key West should seek safe harbor before the Labor Day weekend begins and ocean-going vessels should make plans to leave the port ahead of the storm.

‘EXTREMELY DANGEROUS’

“Dorian is expected to become a major hurricane on Friday, and remain an extremely dangerous hurricane through the weekend,” the hurricane center said, warning of an increasing likelihood of life-threatening storm surge along portions of Florida’s east coast late in the weekend.

The storm was packing maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour (137 km per hour) on Thursday morning some 220 miles (355 km) north-northwest of San Juan, and about 370 miles (600 km) east of the Bahamas, the hurricane center said.

“On this track, Dorian should move over the Atlantic well east of the southeastern and central Bahamas today and on Friday,” forecasters said, “and approach the northwestern Bahamas Saturday.”

The storm could affect big population centers as well as major Florida tourist destinations.

The Universal Orlando Resort theme park, owned by Comcast Corp, said it was following the approaching storm closely.

“We are closely monitoring the weather. At this time our park operations and hours are continuing as normal. We have plans and procedures for serious weather that are time-proven and we will continue to make operating decisions as we learn more,” a theme park representative said in an email.

Dorian is expected to become a major hurricane by Friday afternoon and continue to gain strength until it makes landfall.

Local residents fill their cars with gas after waiting in line ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in Kissimmee, Florida, U.S. August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Gregg Newton

Local residents fill their cars with gas after waiting in line ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in Kissimmee, Florida, U.S. August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Gregg Newton

Trump issued an emergency declaration on Wednesday night for the U.S. Virgin Islands, ordering federal assistance with disaster relief for the U.S. territory. On Tuesday, he made a similar declaration for Puerto Rico, and also renewed a feud with island officials over how disaster relief funds from previous hurricanes.

Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from back-to-back hurricanes in 2017 that killed about 3,000 people soon after the island filed for bankruptcy. On Wednesday, it escaped fresh disaster as Dorian avoided the territory and headed toward Florida.

Preparations were mounting in the Bahamas, which could be hard hit.

Jeffrey Simmons, the country’s acting director of the Department of Meteorology, said severe weather could strike the southeast Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands on Friday.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Helen Coster in New York; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Will Dunham)

Fire engulfs casino shuttle boat off Florida coast, 15 injured

A fire breaks out on a SunCruz casino boat at Port Richey, Florida, U,S, January 14, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media.

By Renita D. Young

NEW YORK (Reuters) – At least 15 people were injured when a fire engulfed a boat off the coast of Florida on Sunday, causing the 50 people aboard to jump into the Gulf of Mexico and swim to shore, local officials said.

A preliminary investigation showed the fire broke out at about 4:17 p.m. EST from an apparent engine issue, said Shawn Whited, division chief with Pasco Fire Rescue.

“The captain of the boat said there was an issue with the engine. He said he noticed smoke coming form the engine room and turned the boat around,” Whited said.

The 60-foot shuttle boat was on its way to the Sun Cruz Casino boat, a little more than three miles away in international waters. It had only made it about 100 yards from where it originated in Port Richey, about 30 miles north of downtown Tampa.

After seeing the smoke, the captain prompted the 50 people aboard the boat to abandon ship and swim to shore. Some of the injuries were from being in cold water and from smoke inhalation, said Whited.

The boat was “fully engulfed” in flames, said Dan Dede, a dispatch supervisor at Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and Pasco Fire.

An official investigation will start soon, according to Whited. Several agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the City of Port Richey Fire Department and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, responded to the incident.

(Reporting by Renita D. Young; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Category 4 Storm, Hurricane Joaquin, Slamming Bahamas; East Coast Prepares for Flooding

Hurricane Joaquin, a powerful Category 4 storm, has stalled over the central Bahamas, slamming the islands with hurricane-force winds, torrential rain, and storm surge flooding.

Dozens of citizens are trapped within their homes and authorities are not able to reach them. All schools in the Bahamas are closed. Homes have been flooded and roofs have been taken off buildings. So far, there have been no reports of casualties in the Bahamas according to Capt. Stephen Russell, the director of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency.

Christian minister Dawn Taylor who is located on Eluthera stated that faith would get them through the storm.

“We depend on our God, and as long as he is with us, we will be fine and we will ride out the storm,” she said.

A U.S. Coast Guard container ship has also gone missing after getting caught in Joaquin’s path. The El Faro was traveling to San Juan, Puerto Rico from Jacksonville, Florida and reportedly was stuck somewhere near Crooked Island in the Bahamas. The ship has 33 crew members on board. The Coast Guard told CNN that when they last heard, the ship had been taking on water, but the flooding had been contained. As of right now, communications with the ship have stopped. The Air Force has been helping with the search for the missing ship and crew.

Hurricane Joaquin is not expected to make landfall on the U.S. but five East Coast states have still declared a state of emergency for potential torrential rain and severe flooding. Two lives have been claimed by the storm in the Carolinas where heavy rain has fallen for days. Four inches of rain was dumped in South Carolina causing flash floods that submerged several cars.

The National Hurricane Center reported to Fox News that the storm could near the U.S. East Coast on Sunday or Monday. The storm is expected to make a significant turn to the north on Friday and Saturday, leaving the Bahamas by late Friday evening.