MELBOURNE, Fla.—Hurricane Dorian slowed to a crawl Monday over the northwestern Bahamas, pounding Grand Bahama Island with catastrophic winds and storm surge before moving toward the southeastern U.S.
After lashing the Abaco Islands, the storm made landfall in Grand Bahama Island Sunday night and slowed to just 1 mile an hour Monday morning, prolonging the battering, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm is forecast to approach dangerously close to Florida late Monday night and turn north, skirting the coast and coming perilously near the Georgia and South Carolina coasts Wednesday night and Thursday.
Though the hurricane isn’t projected to make landfall in Florida, “only a slight deviation to the left of the official forecast track would bring the core of Dorian near or over the Florida east coast,” forecasters said Monday.
Dorian, which was a Category 5 storm for more than 24 hours before being downgraded to Category 4 late Monday morning, is the strongest hurricane on modern record to hit the Bahamas. Sustained winds, which had reached 185 miles an hour Sunday, decreased to 150 miles an hour Monday, the hurricane center said.
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The extent of the storm’s destruction on the islands began to emerge early Monday. As many as 13,000 homes may have been severely damaged or destroyed, leaving many people without shelter, according to an initial assessment by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. In the Abaco Islands, extensive flooding likely contaminated wells with saltwater, the organization said.
The islands sustained “catastrophic damage,” said Darren Henfield, the Bahamas minister of foreign affairs, in a video from the Abaco Islands posted on ZNS Bahamas, which is operated by a state-owned broadcasting company. He said there were reports of casualties, which search-and-rescue parties would seek to confirm once it was safe to venture out.
Mr. Henfield said shelters in the area largely were compromised and officials turned a government complex into a makeshift shelter. During a lull in the storm when the eye passed over, many residents headed to the complex to seek sanctuary. A clinic in the region was packed to capacity, he said.