Just off the coast of Florida, a monster hurricane still looms in livid green on radar screens, but by all indications the Sunshine State appears to be on track to dodge the worst of Dorian.
The state was out of the cone of concern, the deadly, drenching Category 2 storm on a path far enough out at sea that only the edges of its winds raked the coast. It’s a far rosier outcome than initially expected, and a stark contrast to the devastation and rising death toll in the Bahamas.
“I think we’re fortunate that this will have minimal impact on Florida,” acting Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor said at a news conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis in Tallahassee.
In this case, minimal impact still means beaches so eroded they’re littered in uncovered sea turtle eggs, storm surge that flooded cars and winds that tore limbs from trees. All that is despite Hurricane Dorian’s slow turn north, where the Category 2 storm is predicted to weaken.
The Florida coast from Sebastian Inlet to Ponte Vedra Beach was expected to feel hurricane conditions Wednesday morning as the storm passes offshore. Storm surge — combined with higher than average King Tide — already flooded streets, homes and buildings on Florida’s northeast coast. And officials warn the flooding could worsen in vulnerable spots like Jacksonville and St. Augustine.
“It’s still not over yet, so be prepared for any scenario,” Gaynor said.
Ashley Davis, director of operations, said the state may also start looking to send resources to states farther north that may see stronger impacts from Dorian. But he urged responders to remain prepared for the worst possible scenario.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so frustrated in my career with a hurricane,” he said. “I’ll feel a lot better when [Dorian’s] off Florida’s seaboard.”
As of 5 a.m. Wednesday, Dorian was hugging the coast off Central Florida and “finally on the move again,“ the National Hurricane Center said. It was located about 90 miles east of Daytona Beach, with sustained winds of 105 mph, headed north northwest at 8 mph. The storm may have dropped from peak power, but its wind field grew, increasing the risk of high winds and dangerous storm surge to move farther inland. Hurricane-force winds extended 60 miles from the center of the system, and tropical-storm-force winds whipped up to 175 miles from the core.
The hurricane should be clear of Florida Wednesday afternoon, after which it’s predicted to skim the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas with dangerous storm surge and winds before withering in colder northern waters.
Throughout Tuesday, as updates from the National Hurricane Center continued to signal that Florida remained out of the line of direct fire, residents up and down the coast began to relax.
“We got really lucky. Incredibly lucky,” said Chris Andrews, a resident of Port Salerno, a small town in unincorporated Martin County on the St. Lucie River inlet. Just two days ago, forecasters said Martin County might be where the massive storm made landfall when it was done battering the Bahamas.
“We’re just thinking about the Abacos and the Bahamas and how devastating it is for them,” he said.
The islands were raked by the strongest storm in their history for an excruciating 48 hours.
The 185 mph winds leveled communities in the Abacos, and the storm surge — topping 20 feet in some spots — left terrified Bahamians scrambling to their second floors, then their attics and even their roofs to avoid its murky brown wrath. Shelters flooded. Roofs were blown off. Videos on social media show families scrambling through waist-high water, hoisting children and pets above the flood.
And though the storm slowed to 145 mph over Grand Bahama, it hovered over the island for hours, pounding the island with powerful winds and waves that soaked the airport in more than 5 feet of water.
At least seven people in the Bahamas have died in the relentless winds and two-story storm surge over the weekend, and the toll easily could rise once relief and rescue workers can fully assess the destruction. Bahamian press published photos of what appeared to be officials loading bodies on a truck in Abaco.
The U.S. Coast Guard had already rescued 19 people from a medical clinic in Marsh Harbour in the Abaco Islands, evacuating them by helicopter to Nassau. Nonprofits and local governments in South Florida have begun collecting resources and sending relief planes.
“We are in urgent need of help,” Bahamas consul general Linda Mackey said Tuesday morning at a news conference alongside county leaders, including Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
Tuesday also saw the formation of a new tropical depression in the eastern tropical Atlantic, although forecasters said it is “not anticipated to become a hurricane during the work week.” The new depression, along with Tropical Storm Fernand just off Mexico’s Gulf Coast and a tropical disturbance several hundred miles northeast of Dorian, is a reminder that early September is the most active time in hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30.
None of the systems, beside Dorian, appear to be a threat to the U.S. anytime soon.
In Lantana Tuesday afternoon, many roads leading to the beach were flooded. Police were blocking cars from driving down A1A, which was under several feet of water. Some boats seemed as if they were parked near semi-submerged cars.
Over at Sportsman’s Marina in Lantana, home of the 70-foot fishing vessel, the Lady K, which was taken to the Florida Keys as a precaution, several people waded through Intracoastal water that had crept over the bank.
Gaelle Cardenas, 8, and Gloria Teske were showing off a homemade paper sign attached to a tree branch.
“I survived Dorian. Now let’s celebrate,” it said.
Near them were Joseph Baize, 3, and Megan Call, 20. Call’s mother, Luann Call, said water this high wasn’t actually all that unusual. She blamed much of it on the King Tide and climate change.
Dean Hillman of Boynton Beach was checking on his friend’s boat, “Game On.” He said friends of his in town lost a home in the Bahamas.
“We were pretty lucky,” he said.
Farther south, in Boca Raton, shutters remained up on many of condos lining the beach. People still milled about the sand, watching the swelling seas.
The monster storm about 100 miles off shore didn’t stop Chris Bal, 31, who drove up from Fort Lauderdale to surf.
“I’m thankful it didn’t come this way. It’s not fun to go through storms. We dodged a bullet,” he said.
Watching from the lifeguard stand was Alice Pearce, accompanied by her mini goldendoodle named Percy. Over the past week, Pearce considered evacuating, as she did two years ago during Irma, when she fled to North Carolina.
“But there was no point,” Pearce said. “During Irma it was a hellacious drive. I just came to see the waves, they’re kind of fun to watch. I had to prepare, but I’m glad we didn’t evacuate.”
Miami Herald staff writers Elizabeth Koh, David Goodhue, David Ovalle, Carli Teproff and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this story. Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times bureau reporter Lawrence Mower also contributed.