• HURRICANE TRACKER: Dorian strengthens to Cat 3 as storm aims for Carolinas

    Updated:

    Local Dorian impact:

    • Short-term weather conditions remain hot and humid Wednesday with highs in the 90s
    • Dorian continues to push toward SC as a Category 3 hurricane
    • Winds will pick up around the region on Thursday, with gusts near 30 mph
    • Most counties around Charlotte will stay dry as the rain from Dorian will stay well to our east, but a few showers and a gusty breeze could drift into the area Thursday
    • Anson County Schools and Chesterfield County Schools will be closed Thursday
    • Dorian will continue to batter the Carolina coast through Friday before moving out

    Both North and South Carolinians have been warned to be prepared and to not take Hurricane Dorian lightly as the storm continues to make its slow trek toward the U.S.

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Dorian was expected to continue moving northwest Wednesday, spinning close to the coast of Florida. It is expected to reach the Carolina coast as a Category 2 storm.

    Although, it was upgraded to a Category 3 storm Wednesday night, the National Hurricane Center said some fluctuation in intensity is expected over the next 12 hours, followed by slow weakening Thursday through Friday.

    [CLICK HERE to get caught up on Tuesday's Dorian coverage]

    [CLICK HERE FOR REAL-TIME UPDATES ON DORIAN]

    [WATCH LIVE: Cameras along the coast as Dorian approaches]

    The Center said the track would carry the storm "dangerously close to the Florida east coast through Wednesday evening and then move dangerously close to the Georgia and South Carolina coasts on Wednesday night and Thursday."

    A storm surge warning is now in effect from the mouth of St. Mary's River up to the North Carolina-Virginia border.

    All watches and warnings for the east coast of Florida south of the Mouth of Mary's River have been discontinued.

    >> Download the WSOCTV news app for your smartphone and get updates on Dorian as they come in.

    Wednesday night, Dorian was centered about 105 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina and 225 miles south southwest of Wilmington, North Carolina. It has top sustained winds of 115 mph as a Category 3 hurricane. The storm is moving north at 7 mph. 

    >> Remember, you can watch our radar and LIVE continuous Dorian coverage anytime at home on Roku, Amazon Fire and Apple TV.

    Hurricane-force winds extended up to 60 miles from its center, while tropical storm-force winds could be felt up to 195 miles from the core.

    Some weakening is expected during the next couple of days but Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane.

     

     

    The center of Dorian is forecast to move near or over the coast of South Carolina and North Carolina Thursday through Friday morning, bringing strong wind gusts and possible storm surge.


    More Hurricane Dorian content:


    During his Wednesday morning news briefing, Gov. Roy Cooper warned that Dorian "has its sights on North Carolina. We will not underestimate the damage this storm can cause. The biggest threats will be to coastal communities and their inland neighbors."

    Cooper urged residents to finish their preparations Wednesday, but to be careful. He said an 85-year-old man in Columbus County died after falling from a ladder while preparing for the storm -- the state's first storm-related death.

    The state emergency operations center didn't have the man's name, but a spokesman said he died Monday at a hospital in nearby Fayetteville.

    A mandatory evacuation is in place for North Carolina's barrier islands, where Cooper said rainfall could be as high as 15 inches. Officials also expected high storm surge along the coast.

    "Leave now if you are in an area where an evacuation has been ordered," Cooper said. "It is not worth putting your life or the life of first responders at risk."

    Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said significant flash flooding was also expected in the southeastern part of the state, which will feel the strongest impacts from Dorian on Thursday into Friday.

    Nearly 400 North Carolina National Guard soldiers have been activated and are standing by to help, as are 56 high water vehicles and 19 aircraft.

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    While it was expected to stay offshore, meteorologists cautioned that "only a small deviation" could draw the storm's dangerous core toward land.

    The federal government announced Tuesday night that it has granted a request for a federal disaster declaration for North Carolina in anticipation of Hurricane Dorian's impact on the state.

    North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper requested the federal declaration on Sept. 2. Cooper said North Carolina has faced difficult storms before and is preparing for Hurricane Dorian to track up the Southeast coast this week.

    "We're taking every precaution to make sure we're prepared," said Cooper. "I appreciate the support of our federal partners in making sure our state is ready to respond to whatever Hurricane Dorian brings."

    A mandatory evacuation of the entire South Carolina coast took effect Monday covering about 830,000 people, and transportation officials reversed all lanes of Interstate 26 from Charleston to head inland earlier than planned after noticing traffic jams from evacuees and vacationers heading home on Labor Day, Gov. Henry McMaster said.

    The most populous coastal county to be evacuated is Dare County, where 250,000 people, including 36,000 residents, have been told to get out.

    In New Hanover County, where flooding cut off the city of Wilmington during last year's Hurricane Florence, officials said they didn't expect a similar issue from Dorian. They say the storm isn't expected to dump as much rain and the ground isn't as saturated as it was last year.

    ['We just gotta do it': Wilmington residents prepare for Dorian]

    ['You need to get out': Myrtle Beach gets ready as Dorian inches closer]

    Forecasters noted that even if Dorian doesn't make landfall, it's likely to bring dangerous winds, life-threatening storm surge and flooding rains to parts of the Carolinas.

    Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ordered mandatory evacuations for that state's Atlantic coast, also starting at midday Monday.

    Authorities in Florida also ordered some mandatory evacuations.

    By Wednesday evening, the Charlotte Motor Speedway had 120 people impacted by Dorian staying at 50 campsites.

    American Red Cross officials say that more than 1,500 people have sought refuge from Hurricane Dorian in a total of 28 shelters in the central and eastern portions of South Carolina.

    In Charleston, South Carolina, steady rain began falling Wednesday evening as Dorian approached the Carolinas and winds began picking up.


    HURRICANE WATCHES AND WARNINGS: 

    Hurricane Warning:

    • North of Savannah River to the North Carolina/Virginia border
    • Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds

    Hurricane Watch:

    • Mouth of St. Mary's River to Savannah River

    Tropical Storm Warning:

    •  Mouth of St. Mary's River to Savannah River
    • North Carolina/Virginia border to Chincoteague, Va.
    • Chesapeake Bay from Smith Point southward

    Over 2 million people along the coast in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina were warned to evacuate. While the threat of a direct hit on Florida had all but evaporated, Dorian was expected to pass dangerously close to Georgia and South Carolina -- and perhaps strike North Carolina -- on Thursday or Friday.

    The hurricane's eye passed to the east of Cape Canaveral, Florida, early Wednesday.

    "Don't tough it out. Get out," said U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency official Carlos Castillo.

    Castillo says FEMA has over 1,600 employees deployed or on the way to Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

    The American Red Cross says they've already opened 170 shelters and evacuation centers. Over 13,000 people are already at those facilities.

    How will Dorian impact the Carolinas, particularly the Charlotte region?

    Channel 9 meteorologists said Dorian will most likely scrape its way along the entire coast of South Carolina and North Carolina, curving to the northeast parallel to the U.S. Southeast seaboard.

    The potent storm was expected to stay close to shore and hammer the coast with dangerous winds and heavy surf, while authorities cautioned that it could still make landfall. This means the area will be dealing with hurricane winds, life-threatening storm surge and heavy rainfall.

    Severe Weather Center 9 meteorologists said the most likely track for Dorian looks eerily similar to Hurricane Matthew in 2016, but they are two very different storms. Matthew reached Category 5 status, and hugged the coast slightly closer than what we're expecting Dorian to do.

    That being said, storms that hug the coast can be very strong and dangerous because they never lose their fuel source -- warm ocean water.

    That means coastal areas especially should be concerned about extensive flooding and strong winds for much of next week, with outer rain bands potentially reaching as far inland as the Charlotte metro area.

    Dorian is creating headaches in the air and on the ground in the Carolinas, crippling airports across the Southeast.

    Travelers should expect flight cancellations Wednesday as the hurricane makes its way up the coast.

    Flights to Charleston will be impacted for sure. Beginning at 3 p.m., the airport there is expected to close. It may reopen Friday morning.

    By dawn on Wednesday nearly 80 flights were canceled at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, many of those from Florida airports, as well as Charleston and Savannah.

    Many people have been evacuating from the Carolina coast this week. The lane reversal on Interstate 26 out of Charleston started Monday and is expected to end at noon Wednesday.

    Cintra said they'll continue to charge tolls on Interstate 77 during the storm since it's not an evacuation route right now.

    The entire South Carolina coast is under a hurricane warning, and many people in Myrtle Beach told Channel 9 they plan to wait out this storm. We saw residents boarding up windows and moving to shelters.

    Many are staying at Conway High School, which is set up as a Red Cross shelter.

    "It just seemed to stall. It is real concerning," said Peter McLaughlin, who lives in Myrtle Beach. "It isn't anything to fool around with. You do need to get out."

    The American Red Cross plans to deploy two more volunteers later Wednesday. They will head to Raleigh where they'll be on standby to help families.

    Hundreds of volunteers and crews are heading to the coast, getting into position to help wherever they can.

    On Wednesday morning, 450 Duke Energy line workers will depart for the coast to help with any potential power outages.

    It's part of a large effort to move 9,000 workers to the Carolinas.

    Duke Energy says the slow-moving storm could cause more than 700,000 power outages in eastern regions of North Carolina and South Carolina based on current predictions.

    The Charlotte Fire Department sent an urban search and rescue team to Kingston, North Carolina on Tuesday, while Conover firefighters are leaving Wednesday to stage in Newport, North Carolina.

    Volunteers with Boone-based Samaritan's Purse will leave Wednesday for the Bahamas. They loaded up a plane on Tuesday with tarps, water purification systems and supplies.

    Dorian is also impacting the special election for North Carolina's 3rd Congressional District.

    Dare County canceled early voting until Friday while Onslow County is canceling early voting Thursday and Friday.

    If needed, the head of the state board of elections has the power to add days to the early voting period and extend the amount of time absentee ballots are accepted.

    More storm activity in the Atlantic region

    While Hurricane Dorian moves closer to Florida, two other named storms are blowing in the Atlantic region.

    Tropical Storm Fernand is in the Gulf of Mexico and closing in on the Northeast Mexican coast just south of the U.S. border, with top sustained winds near 50 mph and higher gusts. The hurricane center says heavy rainfall of up to 18 inches could fall in places along Mexico's Gulf Coast and the Sierra Madre Oriental, and could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides as the storm moves ashore Wednesday.

    Tropical Storm Gabrielle, meanwhile, is far out in the Atlantic Ocean and poses no threat to land. It is expected to remain a tropical storm on a track far from North America.

    Bahamians begin rescues as Dorian moves on toward US coast

    Bahamians rescued victims of Hurricane Dorian with jet skis and a bulldozer as the U.S. Coast Guard, Britain's Royal Navy and a handful of aid groups tried to get food and medicine to survivors and take the most desperate people to safety.

    Airports were flooded and roads impassable after the most powerful storm to hit the Bahamas in recorded history parked over Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, pounding them with winds up to 185 mph and torrential rain before finally moving into open waters Tuesday on a course toward Florida.

    People on the U.S. coast made final preparations for a storm with winds at a still-dangerous 110 mph, making it a Category 2 storm.

    At least seven deaths were reported in the Bahamas, with the full scope of the disaster still unknown.

    The storm's punishing winds and muddy brown floodwaters destroyed or severely damaged thousands of homes, crippled hospitals and trapped people in attics.

    "It's total devastation. It's decimated. Apocalyptic," said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a local hurricane relief group and flew over the Bahamas' hard-hit Abaco Islands. "It's not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again."

    She said her representative on Abaco told her there were "a lot more dead," though she had no numbers of bodies being gathered.

    The Bahamas' prime minister also expected more deaths and predicted that rebuilding would require "a massive, coordinated effort."

    "We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country's history," Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said at a news conference. "No effort or resources will be held back."

    Five Coast Guard helicopters ran near-hourly flights to the stricken Abaco, flying more than 20 injured people to the capital's main hospital. British sailors were also rushing in aid. A few private aid groups also tried to reach the battered islands in the northern Bahamas.

    "We don't want people thinking we've forgotten them. We know what your conditions are," Tammy Mitchell of the Bahamas' National Emergency Management Agency told ZNS Bahamas radio station.

    With their heads bowed against heavy wind and rain, rescuers began evacuating people from the storm's aftermath across Grand Bahama island late Tuesday, using jet skis, boats and even a huge bulldozer that cradled children and adults in its digger as it churned through deep waters and carried them to safety.

    One rescuer gently scooped up an elderly man in his arms and walked toward a pickup truck waiting to evacuate him and others to higher ground.

    In the Bahamas, Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said more than 13,000 houses, or about 45% of the homes on Grand Bahama and Abaco, were believed to be severely damaged or destroyed. U.N. officials said more than 60,000 people on the hard-hit islands will need food, and the Red Cross said some 62,000 will need clean drinking water.

    "What we are hearing lends credence to the fact that this has been a catastrophic storm and a catastrophic impact," Cochrane said.

    Lawson Bates, a staffer for Arkansas-based MedicCorps, flew over Abaco and said: "It looks completely flattened. There's boats way inland that are flipped over. It's total devastation."

    The Red Cross authorized $500,000 for the first wave of disaster relief, Cochrane said. U.N. humanitarian teams stood ready to go into the stricken areas to help assess damage and the country's needs, U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said. The U.S. government also sent a disaster response team.

    Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, with a combined population of about 70,000, are known for their marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts. To the south, the Bahamas' most populous island, New Providence, which includes the capital city of Nassau and has over a quarter-million people, had little damage.

    The U.S. Coast Guard airlifted at least 21 people injured on Abaco. Choppy, coffee-colored floodwaters reached roofs and the tops of palm trees.

    "We will confirm what the real situation is on the ground," Health Minister Duane Sands said. "We are hoping and praying that the loss of life is limited."

    Sands said Dorian rendered the main hospital on Grand Bahama unusable, while the hospital at Marsh Harbor on Abaco was in need of food, water, medicine and surgical supplies. He said crews were trying to fly out five to seven kidney failure patients from Abaco who had not received dialysis since Friday.

    The Grand Bahama airport was under 6 feet of water.

    The U.S. coast from north of West Palm Beach, Florida, through Georgia was expected to get 3 to 6 inches of rain, with 9 inches in places, while the Carolinas could get 5 to 10 inches and 15 in spots, the National Hurricane Center said.

    NASA satellite imagery showed some places in the Bahamas had gotten as much as 35 inches of rain.

    Parliament member Iram Lewis said he feared waters would keep rising and stranded people would lose contact with officials as their cellphone batteries died.

    Dorian also left one person dead in its wake in Puerto Rico before slamming into the Bahamas on Sunday. It tied the record for the strongest Atlantic storm ever to hit land, matching the Labor Day hurricane that struck Florida's Gulf Coast in 1935, before storms were given names.

    Across the Southeast, interstate highways leading away from beaches in South Carolina and Georgia were turned into one-way evacuation routes. Several airports announced closings, and hundreds of flights were canceled. Walt Disney World in Orlando closed in the afternoon, and SeaWorld shut down.

    Police in coastal Savannah, Georgia, announced an overnight curfew. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper ordered a mandatory evacuation of the dangerously exposed barrier islands along the state's entire coast.

    Having seen storms swamp his home on the Georgia coast in 2016 and 2017, Joey Spalding of Tybee Island decided to empty his house and stay at a friend's apartment nearby rather than take any chances with Dorian.

    He packed a U-Haul truck with tables, chairs, a chest of drawers, tools - virtually all of his furnishings except for his mattress and a large TV - and planned to park it on higher ground. He also planned to shroud his house in plastic wrap up to shoulder height and pile sandbags in front of the doors.

    "In this case, I don't have to come into a house full of junk," he said. "I'm learning a little as I go."

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