Aug. 30--The forecasted track of Hurricane Dorian moved slightly south Thursday evening, but the storm remained on course to be an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 if it makes landfall on the eastern coast of Florida early next week, the National Hurricane Center said.
As of 11 p.m., Dorian strengthened to a Category 2 storm with winds swirling at 105 mph. It was 295 miles east-northeast of the southeastern Bahamas, moving northwest at 12 mph. While there were no hurricane watches or warnings as of Thursday night, there could be some issued Friday for the Bahamas, the NHC said.
"There is an increasing likelihood of life-threatening storm surge along portions of the Florida east coast late this weekend or early next week, although it is too soon to determine where the highest storm surge will occur," the NHC said. "Residents should have their hurricane plan in place, know if they are in a hurricane evacuation zone, and listen to advice given by local emergency officials."
Hugh Willoughby, hurricane expert at Florida International University, said Dorian can do real damage.
"As long as it's fairly small and moving fairly fast, the big concern will be wind at the landfall point," he said. "If it grows, as they tend to do, or if it stalls before landfall, we'll have to worry more about storm surge."
Central Floridians have already been making preparations, flooding local stores in search of bottled water, generators and other supplies that were already in high demand. The storm's latest track had it approaching the east coast Monday afternoon and reaching the Orlando area Tuesday afternoon, hours later than had been predicted earlier in the day.
Home Depot has sent more than 160 truckloads of products to stores in Florida so far, company spokesperson Christina Cornell said.
While flavored waters and sports drinks remained available Thursday at the Walmart Supercenter at John Young Parkway and Princeton Street in Orlando, shelves of water were emptied out. Some shelves of canned goods had also thinned.
"We got batteries," said 31-year-old Christopher Hudon, an Orlando attorney. "Water has been cleaned like crows from the shelves. There's literally no water. There's only flavored water left."
The state has ordered an additional 200,000 gallons of water to bring the total to more than 1 million gallons. It pre-deployed 860,000 bottles of water to preparing counties
Meanwhile colleges announced cancellations and hotels were offering deals.
The University of Central Florida and Valencia and Rollins colleges all said they were closing at 5 p.m. Friday through at least Tuesday. Rollins also canceled classes for Wednesday. UCF and Rollins urged students to ride out the storm at a safe place off-campus.
Schools in Central Florida said they will make any decisions about closing schools once the storm's path is more clear.
The impending storm also caused the relocation of Saturday's college football game between Florida State University and Boise State University from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. Kickoff was also moved up from 7 p.m. to noon at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Rosen Hotels & Resorts said it will offer discounts this weekend for Florida residents who needs a place to stay during Hurricane Dorian. The chain, owned by local hotelier Harris Rosen, will also drop pet fees to accommodate four-legged friends that owners want to keep with them.
For $59.99 per night, Florida residents can stay at three International Drive hotels: Rosen Inn International, Rosen Inn closest to Universal and Rosen Inn at Pointe Orlando. Clarion Inn Lake Buena Vista and Midpointe Hotel will also feature the $59.99 rate. To book these hotels, call 1-866-337-6736.
Other hotels are expected to announce their own special rates and deals.
No evacuations -- yet
As of Thursday, there were no evacuations announced.
During past hurricanes, the governor's office has suspended tolls in the areas most affected by the storm before it arrives so people could leave, in case of evacuations. If there is an evacuation order, DeSantis will waive tolls for that area, his office said.
Workers on the I-4 Ultimate project wound down construction and were securing or removing traffic barrels, barricades, temporary signage and any other items that might be affected by strong winds, said Steve Olson, spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation which is overseeing the project. Crews working on other roadways, such as on State Roads 408 and 417, did the same.
President Donald Trump said Florida is "going to be totally ready" for Hurricane Dorian.
In an appearance on Brian Kilmeade's Fox News radio show, he said he spoke with DeSantis on Wednesday night and that, "He's all set." DeSantis issued a State of Emergency on Wednesday, which extended to the entire state on Thursday. He also activated 2,500 members of the National Guard with 1,500 more on standby.
"Due to Hurricane Dorian's uncertain projected path, I am expanding the state of emergency to include all 67 counties throughout Florida," DeSantis said "All residents, especially those along the east coast, need to be prepared for possible impacts. As it increases strength, this storm has the potential to severely damage homes, businesses and buildings, which is why all Floridians should remain vigilant. Do not wait until it is too late to make a plan."
On Thursday morning, President Trump tweeted, "Be prepared and please follow State and Federal instructions, it will be a very big Hurricane, perhaps one of the biggest!"
Right now the storm is fairly tight with hurricane-force winds only extending out 15 miles, and tropical storm force winds extending out 90 miles, but the warm waters of the Atlantic as Dorian approaches the northwest Bahamas should allow the storm to grow in both intensity and size, according to the NHC.
"Dorian will be moving through a favorable environment of low vertical wind shear and warm sea surface temperatures. This should allow for at least steady intensification, and Dorian is forecast to become major hurricane on Friday," the NHC said.
Several of the forecast path models target Central Florida for landfall, but forecasters emphasize that anyone in the cone, which includes all of Florida's east coast, should be prepared.
"The risk of devastating hurricane-force winds along the Florida east coast and peninsula late this weekend and early next week continues to increase, although it is too soon to determine where the strongest winds will occur," the NHC said.
Flooding can be dangerous
The cone of uncertainty shows the storm could be anywhere from coastal Georgia to the Florida Keys by early Monday.
Parts of Florida could expect 4 to 8 inches of rain, and up to 12 inches in isolated areas later this week and into early next week.
Dorian could cause havoc at areas in Central Florida susceptible to flooding, including Orlo Vista. When Hurricane Irma struck two years ago, floodwaters rushed into 500 homes in the working-class community and forced more than 200 people to be evacuated the Good Samaritan Society Village in Osceola County, which sustained $500 million in damage.
As was the case before Irma, the rainy season has already left the region wet. According to the Keetch-Byram drought index, used to measure dryness of soil, Orange and Osceola counties are among the dampest in the state.
In the buildup to this storm, Orange County officials have confirmed pumps and drainage in Orlo Vista are working and cleared from debris. While the area's water storage is limited to a 40-acre retention pond, water levels have been drained down 5 feet lower, which could've limited damage two years ago, said Mike Drozeck, stormwater manager for Orange County.
On the coast, storm surge is the biggest killer of people. Surviving storm surge is straightforward: Evacuate, if ordered to do so. That means knowing if you are in a potential evacuation area. Go to floridadisaster.org/knowyourzone to search by address and find out if you're in a designated evacuation zone.
PETA on Thursday reminded Floridians with pets never to leave them tied up or confined to crates, pens, or hutches as they could be trapped and unable to flee rising waters.
"Animals could die if abandoned during any evacuations that may occur," PETA media coordinator Brooke Rossi said.
During Hurricane Irma, more than 50 tethered cats and dogs were rescued by animal control officers in Palm Beach County, PETA said.
Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands left relatively unscathed
Dorian left mercifully little damage in its wake in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, where it blew through as a Category 1 hurricane on Wednesday.
Puerto Rico seemed to be spared any heavy wind and rain, a huge relief on an island where blue tarps still cover some 30,000 homes nearly two years after Hurricane Maria. The island's 3.2 million inhabitants also depend on an unstable power grid that remains prone to outages since it was destroyed by Maria.
Several hundred customers were without power across Puerto Rico, said Ángel Figueroa, president of a utility workers union. Police said an 80-year-old man in the town of Bayamón died after he fell trying to climb to his roof to clear it of debris ahead of the storm.
Dorian caused an island-wide blackout in St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and scattered outages in St. Croix, government spokesman Richard Motta said.
No serious damage was reported in the British Virgin Islands, where Gov. Augustus Jaspert said crews were already clearing roads and inspecting infrastructure by late Wednesday afternoon.
The storm hit the Virgin Islands on Wednesday and a weather station south of St. Thomas recorded a gust of more than 110 mph, the NHC said.
Staff writers Ryan Gillespie, Marco Santana, Leslie Postal, Austin Fuller, Kevin Spear, Cristóbal Reyes, Chaunte'l Powell, Iliana Limón Romero and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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