A satellite image shows Tropical Storm Dorian as it approaches the Bahamas at 1.40pm co-ordinated universal time on September 1 2019. Picture: NOAA/RAMMB/AFP
A satellite image shows Tropical Storm Dorian as it approaches the Bahamas at 1.40pm co-ordinated universal time on September 1 2019. Picture: NOAA/RAMMB/AFP

Boston/Miami — Hurricane Dorian, the second-strongest Atlantic storm on record, battered the Bahamas, inflicting colossal damage to property and infrastructure across the chain of islands.

The hurricane was packing winds with maximum sustained speeds of 270km/h early on Monday and a storm surge that could top 7m, potentially leaving the islands devastated for years.

The hurricane will move dangerously close to Florida’s east coast tonight through Wednesday evening, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory.

There were no immediate estimates of casualties as Dorian, a life-threatening category 5 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, covered the northwestern islands of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama with twisted metal and splintered wood.

The storm ripped off roofs, overturned cars and tore down power lines in the Bahamas, the Associated Press reported.

A seven-year-old boy was reported to have drowned in the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas, according to a Twitter post by Bahamas Press. The storm is about 65km from Freeport, Grand Bahama.

“This is probably the most sad and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said while crying during a press conference at the headquarters of the National Emergency Management Agency, The Nassau Guardian reported on Sunday. “This will put us through a test that we’ve never confronted before.”

Minnis said that homes in the Bahamas are built to withstand winds as strong as 241km/h and the islands have never before faced a hurricane like Dorian, according to the paper.

In some places that are facing the brunt of the storm, it wasn’t possible to tell the difference between the beginning of the street and the ocean, it cited him as saying. Despite evacuation orders for those in vulnerable areas, many people hadn’t heeded the warning, he said.

“I wouldn’t want to be on the Abaco Islands, they are going to have 12 to 15 hours of hurricane force winds with only the eye as the respite,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground, an IBM business. “Everything in that eye is going to get totalled. It is going to take them years, if not a decade, to recover.”

Roughly 100,000 of the Bahamas population of 370,000 live in areas that would be hit by the storm, said Kevin Peter Turnquest, the country’s deputy prime minister, adding in a response to queries that Abaco suffered “severe destruction of homes and infrastructure”.

The Bahamian government was preparing orders to allow donated relief supplies to move quickly to areas that need it most, local Eyewitness News reported on its website.

While the devastation mounts in the Bahamas, the threat to Florida and the US East Coast remains uncertain. A storm surge warning is in effect from Lantana, about 96.5km north of Miami, up to the Volusia/Brevard county line.

A hurricane warning is in effect for the Jupiter Inlet, also up to Volusia/Brevard. While many people focus on winds, most hurricane deaths are caused by storm surge and drowning from flooding.

Dorian will cause at least $25bn of insurance losses, according to analysts at UBS Group, the costliest of any natural disaster since 2017. Depending on whether it hits the eastern coast of Florida in the next few days, the storm could cost as much as $40bn, they said.

Fluctuations in weather patterns across the US and Atlantic mean Dorian could hit Florida or further up the coast in Georgia or the Carolinas later this week — or not make landfall at all.

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, including for the Mar-a-Lago club owned by Donald Trump, which the president often uses as a “Winter White House”.

“Life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds are expected along portions of the Florida east coast through mid-week,” Lixion Avila, a senior hurricane specialist at the center wrote in an analysis. “Only a slight deviation to the left of the official forecast would bring the core of Dorian near or over the Florida east coast.”

Florida’s fate will hang on the strength of a high-pressure system in the western Atlantic and how far Dorian can move west. If that system weakens, then Dorian should veer away from the coastline, which has some of the priciest properties in the US. If it stays strong, the catastrophic tempest will come perilously close to shore, said Ryan Truchelut, president of Weather Tiger in Tallahassee, Florida.

Its current projected turn would also bring it close to the St Lucie nuclear power station, home to two nuclear reactors owned by Nextera Energy’s subsidiary Florida Power & Light.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Bloomberg