The US National Hurricane Centre said Dorian would probably strengthen into a dangerous Category 4 storm as it passes near or over the northern Bahamas on Saturday, before hitting Florida on Sunday.
Along much of Florida’s east coast, shoppers rushed to stock up on food and emergency supplies at supermarkets and hardware stores and picked the shelves clean of bottled water. Lines formed at service stations as motorists topped off their tanks and filled gasoline cans.
Forecasters said the Category 1 hurricane is expected to bulk up with winds of 130 mph (209 kph) before broadsiding the US on Monday somewhere between the Florida Keys and southern Georgia — a 500-mile stretch that reflected the high degree of uncertainty this far out.
Donald Trump said Florida is “going to be totally ready.” He tweeted: “Be prepared and please follow State and Federal instructions, it will be a very big Hurricane, perhaps one of the biggest!”
As of late Thursday morning, Dorian was centred about 220 miles (355 kilometres) northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, its winds blowing at 85 mph (140 kph) as it moved northwest at 13 mph (20 kph).
The National Hurricane Centre’s projected track had the storm blowing ashore midway along the Florida peninsula, southeast of Orlando and well north of Miami. But because of the difficulty of predicting its course this far ahead, the “cone of uncertainty” covered nearly the entire state.
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Also imperilled were the Bahamas, with Dorian’s projected track running just to the north of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.
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.