FREEPORT, Bahamas (AP) — Government officials urged hundreds of people to evacuate their homes on low-lying cays in the northwestern Bahamas and opened shelters on Saturday as Hurricane Dorian barreled toward the archipelago as a menacing Category 4 storm.
The strengthening storm was expected to approach Saturday and then move over or near the area Sunday as it followed a path likely to take it on to Florida’s east coast.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center described the storm as “extremely dangerous.”
“It could have disastrous results for the island of Grand Bahama,” said Kwasi Thompson, minister of state in this island nation.
Shelters being set up in churches and schools would begin opening around 8 a.m. Saturday, authorities said.
Early Saturday, Dorian was centered 280 miles (450 kilometers) east of the northwestern Bahamas and about 545 miles (880 kilometers) east of West Palm Beach, Florida. It had maximum sustained winds of 145 mph (230 kph) and moving west at 12 mph (19 kph).
Schools and government offices remained closed across the Bahamas as the government warned that Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands probably would get the worst of the storm. Officials said between 2,000 and 3,000 people living on tiny cays in the Abaco Islands should evacuate and warned that those who did not were putting their lives at risk and endangering rescue crews.
“We cannot emphasize enough that they need to get out,” said Abaco Island Administrator Maxine Duncombe.
Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest urged everyone to remain indoors once the storm began closing in. “This is not the time for WhatsApp news reporters,” he said.
Long lines snaked from some gas stations and grocery stores on Grand Bahama on Friday as people stocked up on water and canned food, leading to empty shelves in some locations.
Cassandra Hepburn, one resident, said everyone was rushing to make their final preparations.
“You’re never really ready for a hurricane, but God is in control, so we’ll do the best we can,” she said.
Stephen Russell, director of the islands’ National Emergency Management Agency, noted Category 4 hurricanes hit the Bahamas in three recent consecutive years: Joaquin in 2015, Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017, causing an estimated $80 million in damage.
“We are a resilient nation,” he said.
Associated Press writer Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.