(Bloomberg) -- Hurricane Dorian, working its way up the U.S. East Coast, is nearing Georgia and the Carolinas after sweeping past Florida with nowhere near the force it brought to bear killing at least 20 people in the Bahamas.
Dorian brought life-threatening storm surges as it reached about 105 miles (170 kilometers) south-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said in an 2 a.m. New York time advisory. The storm’s sustained winds strengthened to 115 miles per hour, regaining Category 3 status.
The hurricane’s first landfall in the U.S. could come near Wilmington, North Carolina, or further up the coast on the Outer Banks, said Thomas Downs, a meteorologist with WeatherBell Analytics in New York. There’s a chance Dorian could strengthen, he said.
“Right now the system is starting to tighten up,” Downs said. The storm was moving northward at about 7 mph, according to the advisory, with the center of Dorian expected to approach the South Carolina coast on Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, the Bahamas is starting to assess the damage from the strongest storm to hit the island nation in modern history, with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis confirming in a press conference at least 20 people have died on Abaco Island, with that number expected to increase, according to the Bahamas Press.
President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency in North Carolina, clearing the way for U.S. disaster relief. With the storm widening out, “coastal areas of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina will likely receive stronger winds than Florida,” Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist at the Weather Co., an IBM business, said in an email.
South Carolina, he said, “may receive a foot of rain.”
The hurricane couldn’t be arriving at a worse time for farmers in the region raising cotton, tobacco, hemp and corn. Fields were maturing and high winds could deal a potentially devastating blow before farmers have a chance to harvest.
In the Bahamas, meanwhile, waters were receding on Thursday from a storm surge that reached 23 feet at times during the two days Dorian sat over the archipelago. Minnis said he expects the death toll to rise, noting in a news conference that parts of Abaco -- the area first hit by the storm -- have been “decimated” with “severe damage to homes, businesses and other buildings and infrastructure.”
Minnis said in a tweet that he spoke with Trump and Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who both pledged assistance to Grand Bahama and Abaco. The damage wrought upon the islands is likely to run into “hundreds of millions if not billions,” the Nassau Guardian newspaper cited Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest as saying. Large tracts of homes are under water, and the government intends to make formal appeals for assistance, he said. Outbreaks of looting are adding to the country’s misery.
As Dorian lumbered north, power companies in the Southeast scrambled to prepare.
Duke Energy Corp, which owns several utilities in the region, released out-of-state workers it had dispatched to Florida in advance of the storm and instead readied crews in the Carolinas. Santee Cooper, which supplies power to 2 million people in South Carolina, has a crew of more than 800 standing by for recovery efforts. The company estimates as many as 700,000 could lose power from the storm.
Cities further up the coast were preparing. Sandbags have been distributed in Charleston and the city encouraged some residents to park their vehicles on higher ground. The city council also approved an emergency order to enact a curfew, should one be necessary, according to a tweet. Local and state governments in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas have ordered coastline residents and businesses to begin evacuations.
“Please listen to and follow all evacuation orders,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said in a statement announcing a mandatory evacuation order for the state’s tourist-friendly coast. “We have seen the life and death effects of this storm in the Bahamas, and we urge everyone on the islands at the coast to leave.”
Looking forward, the storm will sweep by Cape Cod in Massachusetts over the weekend, where it could bring tropical storm conditions, the National Weather Service said.
To map assets in Hurricane Dorian’s path, click here.
(Updates storm’s intensity and location.)
--With assistance from Sharon Cho, David R. Baker, Will Wade, Todd Shields, Josh Wingrove, Alyza Sebenius, Michael Riley, Bill Lehane, Sheela Tobben, Jonathan Levin, Andrew Janes, Kim Chipman, Christopher Martin, Matthew Bristow, Serene Cheong and Dan Murtaugh.
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