‘Everything is gone:’ Bahamians struggle in Dorian’s devastating wake death toll 20

Patients and their families crowd the entrance of the Marsh Harbour Medical Clinic in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

By Nick Brown

NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) – Stunned residents of the Bahamas surveyed the wreckage of their homes and officials struggled to assess the number killed by Hurricane Dorian, as the storm bore down on the South Carolina coast, threatening record flooding on Thursday.

The United Nations said 70,000 people in the Bahamas needed immediate humanitarian relief after the most damaging storm ever to hit the island nation.

Aerial video of the worst-hit Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas showed widespread devastation, with the harbor, shops, workplaces, a hospital and airport landing strips damaged or decimated, frustrating rescue efforts.

One of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record, Dorian was rated a Category 5 hurricane when it killed at least 20 people in the Bahamas. Authorities expect that number to rise, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said at a news briefing, as retreating floodwaters revealed the scope of destruction.

“My island of Abaco, everything is gone. No banks, no stores, no nothing,” said Marsh Harbour resident, Ramond A. King as he surveyed the wreckage of his home, which had its roof ripped off and debris scattered throughout. “Everything is gone, just bodies.”

With telephones down in many areas, residents posted lists of missing loved ones on social media. One Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas had 2,500 comments, mainly listing lost family members.

Hurricane Dorian's destruction is seen on the Marsh Harbour in Abaco Islands, Bahamas, September 4, 2019 in this photo grab obtained from a social media video by Reuters on September 5, 2019. Ramond A King via REUTERS

Hurricane Dorian’s destruction is seen on the Marsh Harbour in Abaco Islands, Bahamas, September 4, 2019 in this photo grab obtained from a social media video by Reuters on September 5, 2019. Ramond A King via REUTERS

Dorian killed one person in Puerto Rico before hovering over the Bahamas for two days with torrential rains and fierce winds that whipped up 12- to 18-foot (3.7- to 5.5-meter) storm surges.

POSSIBLE RECORD SURGE

South Carolina was preparing for a record storm surge, potentially reaching a height of 8 feet (2 meters) at the popular vacation destination of Myrtle Beach, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.

The storm was located about 70 miles (115 km) south-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, at 8 a.m. EST (1200 GMT) on Thursday and was headed north-northeast at about 8 miles per hour (13 kph), the NHC said. It was packing 115 mph (185 kph) winds.

About a foot (30 cm) of rain will drop on flood-prone Charleston and many parts of the coasts of the Carolinas on Thursday and Friday, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“It’s pretty substantial,” he said early Thursday. “It’s already raining heavy in Charleston and up and down the coast.”

More than 185,000 homes and businesses were without power along the South Carolina and Georgia coastal areas, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us.

The streets of downtown Charleston were all but deserted early Thursday as driving rain and strong winds lashed the city.

On South Battery Street, a block away from the water, Brys Stephens and his family worked hard to keep the water away from a large gray home with white verandas along the front, the type of home that has made Charleston famous and is a major tourist draw.

He was working to reattach metal flood gates to a sturdy high wall fronting the property.

“The gates worked pretty well so far and we’ve managed to keep water away from the house,” Stephens said. “But we’ve got another storm surge coming later on, so we’ll see then if it holds.”

The NHC’s storm surge warning covered parts of the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina stretching from the Savannah River and extending to southern Virginia.

More than 2.2 million people in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina have been ordered to evacuate, although Florida has avoided a direct hit.

Damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

Damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

RELIEF EFFORTS

An international relief effort was underway for the Bahamas, with a British Royal Navy vessel providing assistance and Jamaica sending a 150-member military contingent to help secure Abaco and Grand Bahama, officials said.

Volunteers also ferried supplies to the islands in a flotilla of small boats.

“Let us give of our best in this moment of historic tragedy,” Minnis said.

He also encouraged international tourists to visit the Bahamas, which relies heavily on its hospitality industry.

As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

Norwegian energy company Equinor said it had discovered a spill on the ground outside tanks at its damaged storage terminal in the Bahamas, but was unclear on volumes and had not seen any oil at sea.

The State Department said it did not believe any U.S. citizens who were in the Bahamas during the storm were killed.

President Donald Trump said the United States was sending supplies, including materials originally intended for any Dorian victims in Florida.

(Reporting by Nick Brown in Nassau, Bahamas, additional reporting by Nick Carey in Charleston, South Carolina, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Rebekah Ward in Mexico City, Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico and Rich McKay in Atlanta, writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Graff and Bernadette Baum)

Barbados, Caribbean neighbors brace for heavy rains as Dorian churns west

Tropical Storm Dorian is pictured off the coast of Venezuela in this August 26, 2019 NASA satellite photo. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

BRIDGETOWN (Reuters) – Residents of Barbados and other Caribbean islands braced for heavy rains as tropical storm Dorian churned west-northwest, with officials cautioning that it could approach hurricane strength on Tuesday.

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced declared a state of emergency for the U.S. territory late on Monday in anticipation of the storm, the government said on Twitter.

There will be about 360 shelters open across the island, the governor announced.

Dorian is expected to pass on the southwest side of Puerto Rico as a hurricane on Wednesday night, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.

Barbados, which is closest to the storm’s path, was hit by strong winds and intermittent showers, with periodic jolts of thunder and lightning, on Monday evening.

The Barbados Meteorological Services warned residents to exercise caution, saying wind speeds have climbed over the past six hours and will strengthen further overnight and into Tuesday morning.

A tropical storm watch is in effect for Puerto Rico, and the island of Santa Lucia is on hurricane watch.

Dorian tracked near the Windward Islands on Monday evening and is expected to reach the eastern Caribbean later on Tuesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a report.

By Tuesday morning, the storm was located about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of St. Lucia, blowing maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour, according to the NHC.

(Reporting by Robert Edison Sandiford; additional reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Michael Perry and Ed Osmond)

Tropical storm Gordon weakens after killing child

Storm clouds loom over a pier as Tropical Storm Gordon approaches in Waveland, Mississippi, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Gordon weakened into a depression on Wednesday hours after making landfall just west of the Alabama-Mississippi border and killing one person in Florida, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The storm, which caused only minor damage, was about 25 miles (40 km) south-southeast of Jackson, Mississippi and packed winds of 35 miles per hour. It will likely move across the lower Mississippi Valley through the day, bringing heavy rain and flooding, the NHC added.

An unidentified child was killed on Tuesday when a tree fell on a mobile home in Pensacola, Florida, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter.

A slab where a house once stood is seen as Tropical Storm Gordon approaches Waveland, Mississippi, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

A slab where a house once stood is seen as Tropical Storm Gordon approaches Waveland, Mississippi, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Flash flood warnings and watches were in effect for inland areas while all coastal watches and warnings associated with Gordon were discontinued at this time, the NHC said.

Separately, the NHC on Wednesday named storm Florence, which was about 1,350 miles (2,170 km) east-southeast of Bermuda, as the first major hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season. It has winds 105 miles per hour (165 km/h) and was moving northwest at 13 miles per hour.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency lifted evacuation orders and curfews for south Mississippi residents on Wednesday, said Ray Coleman, spokesman for the agency.

“We have no real damage reports, a couple of trees down, but no real major damages in the lower Mississippi Gulf Coast counties,” Coleman said.

Moderate to heavy flooding could be seen on roadways on Dauphin Island, Alabama and in Jackson, Mississippi, along with a few toppled trees, according to video reports by WKRG and WRAL news stations.

The governors of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had declared this week a state of emergency in anticipation of the storm while companies cut 9 percent of U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production.

U.S. oil producer Anadarko Petroleum Corp evacuated workers and shut production at two offshore platforms on Monday, and other companies with production and refining operations along the Gulf Coast said they were securing facilities.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to 17 percent of U.S. crude oil and 5 percent of natural gas output daily, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Last year, hurricanes hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, causing widespread destruction and thousands of deaths.

(Reporting by Kathy Finn, Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by David Stamp and Steve Orlofsky)

Maria becomes major hurricane, powers through Caribbean

Hurricane Maria is shown in the Atlantic Ocean about 85 miles east of Martinique in this September 17, 2017 NASA handout satellite photo. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

By Robert Sandiford

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (Reuters) – Hurricane Maria picked up strength and roared toward the Leeward Islands on Monday on a track that could whip several eastern Caribbean islands with their second major storm this month.

Maria grew into a Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour (195 km per hour). It was located about 60 miles (95 km) east of Martinique, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said at 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT).

It was headed west-northwest at about 10 mph (17 kph) on a track that would put it over the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico by Wednesday.

Maria was expected to be the second major hurricane this year to hit the Leeward Islands, which were hammered by Hurricane Irma earlier this month, the center said.

Streets were flooded in some residential parts of the island of Barbados, which had been experiencing heavy rain since Sunday as the storm approached.

Maria was expected to bring storm surges – seawater driven ashore by wind – of up to 6 feet to 9 feet (1.8-2.7 m), the NHC said. Parts of the central and southern Leeward Islands could see as much as 20 inches (51 cm) of rain, it said.

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings and watches were in effect for a string of islands in the area, including the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda and the French-Dutch island of Saint Martin.

Several of those islands were devastated earlier this month when Hurricane Irma rampaged through the Caribbean as one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded, killing more than 80 people on the islands and the U.S. mainland.

The deck of a U.S. Navy landing craft is crowded with Army soldiers and their belongings as they are evacuated in advance of Hurricane Maria, off St. Thomas shore, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

The deck of a U.S. Navy landing craft is crowded with Army soldiers and their belongings as they are evacuated in advance of Hurricane Maria, off St. Thomas shore, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory which Irma grazed as it headed toward Cuba and Florida, opened shelters and began to dismantle construction cranes that could be vulnerable to high winds as it prepared for Maria.

“It is time to seek refuge with a family member, friend, or move to a state shelter because rescuers will not go out and risk their lives once winds reach 50 miles per hour,” Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló told reporters on Monday.

Some 450 shelters were open, including one in San Juan that is already housing people evacuated by nearby islands hit by Irma, the government said.

More than 1,700 residents of Barbuda were evacuated to neighboring Antigua after Irma damaged nearly every building there.

Further north, forecasters were also tracking Category 1 Hurricane Jose, which was carrying 75-mph (120-kph) winds and was located about 265 miles (430 km) east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

The eye of that storm was forecast to remain off the east coast of the United States for the next few days, bringing dangerous surf and rip currents to beaches from Delaware through Massachusetts.

 

(Additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Frances Kerry)

 

Death toll in Haiti surges, storm hugs Florida coast

A pedestrian runs across a street as the eye of Hurricane Matthew approaches Daytona Beach, Florida,

By Scott Malone and Zachary Goelman

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) – Hurricane Matthew, carrying winds of 120 miles per hour (195 kph), lashed central Florida on Friday, hugging the Atlantic coast as it moved north and threatened more destruction after killing more than 500 people and leaving thousands homeless in Haiti.

Matthew, the first major hurricane that could hit the United States head on in more than a decade, triggered mass evacuations along the coast from Florida through Georgia and into South Carolina and North Carolina.

Southern Florida escaped the brunt of the storm overnight, but U.S. President Barack Obama and other officials urged people farther north not to get complacent.

“I just want to emphasize to everybody that this is still a really dangerous hurricane, that the potential for storm surge, loss of life and severe property damage exists and people continue to need to follow the instructions of their local officials over the next 24, 48, 72 hours,” Obama told reporters after a briefing with emergency management and other officials.

The Florida city of Jacksonville could face significant flooding, Florida Governor Rick Scott said. The storm had cut power to some 600,000 households in the state, he told a news conference.

In the Caribbean country of Haiti, where poor rural communities were ravaged by Matthew, the death toll surged to at least 572 people on Friday, as information trickled in from remote areas previously cut off by the storm, according to a Reuters tally of death tolls given by officials.

Matthew smashed through the tip of Haiti’s western peninsula on Tuesday with 145 mph (233 kph) winds and torrential rain. Some 61,500 people were in shelters, officials said, after the storm pushed the sea into fragile coastal villages, some of which were only now being contacted.

Cellphone networks were down and roads were flooded by sea and river water in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas.

Aid has been slow to reach towns and villages around the peninsula. Instead, locals have been helping each other.

“My house wasn’t destroyed, so I am receiving people, like it’s a temporary shelter,” said Bellony Amazan in the town of Cavaillon, where around a dozen people died. Amazan said she had no food to give people.

At 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT), Matthew’s eye, or center, was brushing the Florida coast near the central city of Daytona Beach, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

“The winds are ferocious right now,” said Jeff Piotrowski, a 40-year-old storm chaser from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who early on Friday was near Cape Canaveral, home to the country’s main space launch site. The storm downed power lines and trees and destroyed billboards in Cape Canaveral, he said.

No significant damage or injuries were reported in West Palm Beach and other cities and towns in south Florida where the storm brought down trees and power lines earlier in the night, CNN and local media reported.

FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY

Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he was concerned that relatively light damage so far could give people farther north a false sense of security.

“People should not be looking at the damages they’re seeing and saying this storm is not that bad,” Fugate told NBC. People should also be aware the hurricane carried more than just ferocious winds, he said.

“The real danger still is storm surge, particularly in northern Florida and southern Georgia. These are very vulnerable areas. They’ve never seen this kind of damage potential since the late 1800s.”

NASA and the U.S. Air Force, which operate the Cape Canaveral launch site, had taken steps to safeguard personnel and equipment. A team of 116 employees was bunkered down inside Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Control Center to ride out the hurricane.

Matthew lessened in intensity on Thursday night and into Friday morning, the National Hurricane Center said, but was still a Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity. Category 5 is the strongest.

It could either plow inland or tear along the Atlantic coast through Friday night, the Miami-based center said. The U.S. National Weather Service said the storm could be the most powerful to strike northeast Florida in 118 years.

The NHC’s hurricane warning extended up the Atlantic coast from southern Florida through Georgia and into South Carolina. The last major hurricane, classified as a storm bearing sustained winds of more than 110 mph (177 kph), to make landfall on U.S. shores was Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

Damage and potential casualties in the Bahamas were still unclear as Matthew passed near the capital, Nassau, on Thursday and then moved out over Grand Bahama Island.

Governor Scott has called on some 1.5 million people in coastal areas of Florida to evacuate and he continued to urge people to move away from danger on Friday.

As of Friday morning, about 22,000 people were in Florida shelters and more had moved inland or to the state’s west coast, Scott said. Georgia and South Carolina had also opened dozens of shelters for evacuees.

Those states, as well as North Carolina, declared states of emergency, empowering their governors to mobilize the National Guard. Obama declared states of emergency in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, a move that authorized federal agencies to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Eric Walsh and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Gabriel Stargardter in Miami; Joseph Guyler Delva in Haiti; Zachery Fagenson in Wellington, Fla.; Irene Klotz in Portland, Maine; Laila Kearney in New York; Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Alistair Bell)

Storm Julia weakens into a depression, meandering off of U.S. coast

Map of Tropical Storm Julia

(Updates with details)

Sept 15 (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Julia weakened into a depression and is expected to meander off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina for the next few days, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Thursday.

Julia is located about 60 miles (95 km) south-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph), the Miami-based weather forecaster said.

“A slow and erratic motion is expected over the next couple of days, and the track forecast keeps Julia meandering offshore of the Georgia and southern South Carolina coastlines into Saturday,” the NHC said.

Julia, the 10th named storm of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, was moving northeast at 2 mph just off the U.S. coast, as little change TO its strength was expected during next two days, it said.

Heavy rain combined with high tides raised concerns of flooding in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, and other coastal parts of the state into Thursday morning, forecasters said.

Some residents in coastal communities were offered sandbags to prepare for flooding in low-lying areas.

Since late Tuesday, Julia has dumped heavy rains and toppled trees in the region, but has not caused significant damage, the National Weather Service said.

On Thursday morning, the hurricane center also was tracking a tropical depression that was expected to bring heavy rains to the Cape Verde islands off West Africa. On its forecasted track, the system would remain far away from the coastal United States through early next week.

(Reporting by Karen Rodrigues in Bengaluru and Brendan O’Brien
in Milwaukee; Editing by Alison Williams)