And the cyclone did rage: rough waves ravaged beaches and ocean water spilled over sand barriers; winds felled trees and power lines, leaving thousands without electricity; and heavy rains flooded roads and made driving dangerous. But this strip of coastal South Carolina, known as the Grand Strand, was expecting much worse — because residents here have been through it as recently as 2018.
“This is not going to be one of those storms that goes down in our history or in our record books,” said Thomas Bell, the spokesman for Horry County’s emergency management agency. “This was not a disaster or a catastrophe — especially compared to some of the storms we’ve seen recently, like Florence last year.”
The day began with the ominous strobes of a county’s-worth of cellphones, all blaring emergency alert messages and warning of the potential arrival of one or more tornadoes. At least two did touch down — in North Myrtle Beach and nearby Little River — and damaged homes, forcing some to evacuate.
“That was certainly a rude awakening for pretty much the entire county,” Bell said.
After those dissipated, residents turned their attention back to the eye of the storm, which was creeping slowly north. At first, the projections were ominous. But then, as Dorian passed Winyah Bay, south of Georgetown, its eye jutted east before moving farther up the coast — a redirection that likely spared the state some of its worst-case scenarios, Bell said.
“This storm will probably go down as one of the weirdest ones,” he said. “This was a very hard one to keep your thumb on in terms of impacts. … Fortunately, it was not as they said it would be.”
Officials are still worried about flooding, especially around the Waccamaw River in Conway, but even there, the projection — cresting at 14 feet — is significantly less than the 21-feet record set there last year during Florence.
“We can’t control the weather, can only control how to respond to it,” Bell said. “Hopefully this storm was a good wake up call to everyone to prepare for what could come next.”
Carolinas hit by winds, power outages as officials warn of potential flash floods
Hurricane winds began picking up, rain resumed its day-long drenching and flash flood warnings erupted in downtown Wilmington, N.C., on Thursday night.
By 8 p.m., Duke Energy reported more than 29,000 customers without power in coastal North Carolina, extending into northeastern South Carolina.
The Wilmington forecast office of the National Weather Service said several confirmed tornadoes have been reported Thursday in North and South Carolina coastal counties, seven to 12 inches of rain has drenched coastal South Carolina, and six to eight inches of rain has fallen in Wilmington’s New Hanover County and the adjoining Pender County. An additional three to six inches are possible overnight.
“Flash flooding and power outages are the main concerns, with the tornado threat now gone,” the service bulletin said. “Storm surge is also still a concern through tonight’s high tide, especially for North Carolina.”
The high tide at Wrightsville Beach, directly east of Wilmington, is at 1:27 a.m. Friday, just as hurricane winds are expected to peak.
Bahamas death toll rises to 30
The hurricane left at least 30 people dead in the Bahamas, the country’s health minister, Duane Sands, said Thursday.
Florida links six deaths to the storm, mostly people who died while preparing
Authorities in Florida linked six deaths in the state to Hurricane Dorian, which churned alongside the state’s eastern coast on its way north.
The deaths officially listed as related to Dorian all appeared to involve people preparing for the storm or dying after being evacuated before its arrival.
Jason Mahon, a spokesman for the Florida division of emergency management, said Thursday that six deaths in the state were “confirmed by the medical examiner as related to the hurricane."
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, medical examiners said that as of Thursday, the six deaths took place in four counties — Collier, Brevard, Orange and Osceola — in the southern and central parts of the state. They occurred between Saturday and Wednesday.
They were mostly people who died preparing for the storm, including a 38-year-old man electrocuted while trimming trees to prevent outages before the storm; a 68-year-old trying to install window shutters when he fell; a 72-year-old man who collapsed while moving luggage during the evacuation; and a 56-year-old man cutting branches before the storm when he fell. In addition, an 86-year-old man who had been evacuated and was staying in a shelter became unresponsive and later died, officials said.
North Carolina governor: ‘We have a long night ahead of us'
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) pleaded with residents to remain home while the state is lashed by Hurricane Dorian.
“We are feeling the storm’s force, but it has only started,” Cooper said in a statement Thursday. “We have a long night ahead of us.”
According to Cooper’s office, major river flooding was forecast in parts of the state and flash floods were a concern in the eastern part of North Carolina.
In Hanover County, his office said, some areas got 9 inches of rain Thursday, closing more than a dozen roads because of downed trees and flooding. Eight tornadoes were also reported from Wayne to New Hanover counties, his office added, saying they caused structural damage but no reported injuries or deaths.
More rain and fears of flooding in S.C.
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — By Thursday afternoon, Dorian was 60 miles from Myrtle Beach. As it crept slowly up the coast, its rain bands and wind were already buffeting the beaches, hours after at least two tornadoes had spun off the hurricane and touched down in North Myrtle Beach.
But as of 3 p.m., emergency management officials were projecting that the storm would not make landfall on the Grand Strand, the strip of coast line stretching from the North Carolina state line to Georgetown, S.C.
“It’s not a worst-case scenario, but it hasn’t passed us yet,” said Mark Kruea, the city of Myrtle Beach’s public information officer.
Kruea said the area got more rain than they expected, which could lead to more flooding in Myrtle Beach and Conway — especially when paired with the storm surge, which will likely push the Waccamaw and Little Pee Dee rivers over their banks. But, Kruea said, the severity of the flooding will be “nothing to compare with [Hurricane] Florence at all.”
On the beach, a stranded Jeep Grand Cherokee, buried up to its wheels in sand, caught the attention of local and social media for several hours Thursday morning and afternoon. Authorities said they weren’t sure how it got there and didn’t have plans to move it before the storm rolled in.
As winds intensified, thousands of people in the Myrtle Beach area had lost power — including, at one point, the entire city of Georgetown.
‘You never know’ what will happen
EMERALD ISLE, N.C. — Some residents surveying the tornado damage said they weren’t rethinking their decision to stay put, in part because they thought Dorian would pale in comparison with Florence which hung around the Carolinas like Dorian hung around the Bahamas.
Sam Shipp moved back into his Emerald Isle house just eight days ago after it was ravaged by Hurricane Florence. The rental house he was staying in with his wife and two adolescent children was sold.
“We thought we have to go back, no big deal, and then we get faced with this,” said Shipp, who is friends with the owner of the water park where roofers were at work on a building Tuesday afternoon.
But the memories of Florence and the fresh evidence of Dorian’s dangers before him wasn’t enough to convince him to evacuate, he said, because it looked like the storm wouldn’t linger. He said neighbors and friends decided Thursday morning to flee inland as it looked like Dorian wouldn’t drift east.
“We are kind of right in the bull’s eye, and that’s what changed people’s mind,” said Shipp, who is in his 50s. “You always will second-guess ourselves. You never know.”
Heather Palmeter, 55, lives on a hill about a mile from the tornado site and rode her bike to film the damage on her phone.
A waterside hotel where she tends bar was untouched with nearby palm trees standing firm, just a block away from overturned trailers and debris.
“I’m kind of freaked out right now, and the storm hasn’t even gotten here yet,” said Palmeter, a school counselor who moved from Reston, Va. in 2017 and said she still prefers hurricanes to Beltway traffic. She planned to stay home. “We can hide in a cinder block garage, and we are up a hill and safe from the water and safe from the wind,” she said. “As long as no tornadoes come through, I think we’ll be okay.”
Heading into shelters not knowing what would be waiting at home
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — On Monday morning, Peter McLaughlin got a knock on his door at the Blue Water Resort, where he lives feet from the beach. The hotel was shutting down ahead of the storm, and he’d have to find another place to stay.
McLaughlin was one of the first to arrive at Conway High School, where the Red Cross had set up a shelter. Thursday was his fourth day there, and more people were beginning to trickle in. The 56-year-old moved to the area in the mid-1990s with the Air Force, but he said this year feels historic.
“It’s worse than I thought it’d be,” he said of the hurricane. “This one is much closer to us than any I’ve ever seen. It appears to be making a beeline for Myrtle Beach.”
Lucinda Stutts, who arrived at the shelter Thursday morning, said it feels worse than Hurricane Florence in 2018. Her biggest concern, she said, is the wind and what it might do to the towering pine trees near her home in Conway.
“I don’t know what I’m going to go back to,” she said.
Fearing ‘tornado factories'
EMERALD ISLE, N.C. — Hurricanes can become ‘tornado factories,’ spinning up twisters in their outer rain bands well ahead of the storm’s core. Even before the eye of Dorian made its way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, one of those tornadoes wreaked havoc on tiny Emerald Isle on Thursday morning.
Several buildings and businesses were ripped apart as a tornado briefly slashed across a small water park and a park where people stored mobile homes, sending debris flying across the highway. No injuries were reported.
Carol Hodge, 52, stood over what remained of her recreational vehicle, the smoke detector beeping from inside the rubble. She had hoped it would be the first home she could call her own after living in a parent’s house and with friends. She wasn’t worried at first when she heard about the tornado, figuring it must have been closer to the water.
Then she saw some footage on local television, and recognized her “little ugly” green couch lying in the middle of the street. She rushed to the island.
“This was going to be the first time I ever lived in my own place, but maybe it wasn’t meant to be,” said Hodge, a lifelong North Carolina resident who planned to ride out the storm in a mobile home community in nearby Swansboro. “I don’t know what I’ll be able to do now.”
For the time being, she just was trying to salvage what she could before the downpours started. A bar stool. Shower curtain rods. She smiled at the overturned bath tub with a pained look.
“I was really looking forward to having a tub,” Hodge said. “Normally campers only let you have showers.”
She was staid as she shared her story with others who came to survey the damage.
“It’ll probably hit me later tonight when I sit and really think about it,” Hodge told The Post.
Police arrest some in N.C. for not heeding evacuation orders
WILMINGTON, N.C. — A “few” stragglers in the small city of Wrightsville Beach were arrested early Thursday and criminally charged with failing to heed evacuation warnings, police chief Dan House announced, but he would not say how many were arrested or identify them.
“Overnight, some individuals who failed to heed evacuation warnings were arrested, and some were criminally charged,” he said at a late morning news briefing. “We have consulted the D.A., and he has agreed to prosecute the cases.”
The circumstances are unclear. He said the charges are misdemeanors, but he said he did not know how many people were charged. House said in response to questions that his force would not arrest anyone if they are trying to evacuate although police would follow them to make sure they leave.
About 2,500 people live on the island full time, and on an average day, another 7,500 visitors and part-time residents are there. The city has been under a mandatory evacuation order since Wednesday morning.
‘This is the worst I´ve seen in the Bahamas by far’
MIAMI BEACH — On Thursday morning in Miami, U.S. Coast Guard sailors formed a human chain to load pallets of bottled water and boxes of woven plastic tarps to ship to the Bahamas.
Coast Guard 7th District Commander Rear Admiral Eric Jones said Thursday morning in Miami Beach that the Bahamian government, with help from U.S., British and other forces, is still dispatching helicopters to assess which communities on the Grand Bahamas and Abacos islands remain cut off from aid by washed-out roads.
“We’ve seen both communities that are completely isolated and [with] very little sense of what’s going on the ground, and others like Freeport where the community is already standing up and getting the hospital back up and running on their own,” Jones said.
Because the storm surge flooded so many communities, with jagged debris submerged underneath, officials cannot easily land helicopters or navigate to local ports to deliver food and water.
“Physically there’s just roads that aren’t there any more,” Jones said. “This is the worst I’ve seen in the Bahamas by far.”
Officials said they are still urgently searching for survivors, but operations are shifting from plucking people from flooded rooftops to ferrying more seriously injured patients to higher-level hospitals, and delivering food and water to survivors to prevent dehydration in the searing heat.
Jo-Ann Burdian, the Coast Guard’s captain of the port of Miami, told the cutters heading out Thursday that they were facing many unknowns, even for people experienced with the Bahamas.
“Dorian has rewritten the nautical charts for the Bahamas,” in particular for Abacos and the Grand Bahama Island, she said. “So exercise caution,” Burdian said Thursday morning on the Paul Clark, one of the 154-foot cutters preparing to head to the Bahamas.
Besides the floodwaters, another logistical challenge for the Coast Guard is ensuring that the Bahamian government and nonprofit agencies are prepared to receive and distribute tarps, water and other goods on the ground. Many people want to help in the aftermath of a horrific storm, officials said, but the process can go awry if it isn’t orderly. James Passarelli, Coast Guard chief of staff in the 7th District, said officials want to avoid “a black market situation or anything like that can go bad when you just dump a bunch of supplies into a devastated area.”
Dorian threatens ‘widespread’ flash flooding in eastern Carolinas
Hurricane Dorian’s eye should be near or over the coasts of eastern South Carolina and southeastern North Carolina during the next 12 to 24 hours, the National Hurricane Center reported Thursday morning. As it moves along these coasts, the hurricane center said, Dorian is forecast to get weaker.
Regardless of where the storm’s center goes, “life-threatening storm surge and dangerous winds are expected” along parts of the Carolina coast and some parts farther north, the hurricane center said.
“Flash flooding will become more widespread across the eastern Carolinas and far southeast Virginia today into tonight,” the hurricane center warned. “There is a high risk of flash flooding over these areas, where significant, life-threatening, flash flooding is expected.”
The Capital Weather Gang reported Thursday morning that Dorian’s winds have decreased slightly since the morning, but noted that there was little difference between a low-end Category 3 storm and a high-end Category 2 storm. Dorian was located 50 miles southeast of Charleston, S.C., as of around of 11 a.m., they reported.
Tornado damage in Myrtle Beach
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Residents of Myrtle Beach and the surrounding county woke to a flurry of tornado warnings — one official estimated there were “dozens” — early Thursday morning. By midmorning, large swaths of Horry County were under both tornado and flash flood warnings as Dorian moved up the coast.
In North Myrtle Beach, real estate agent Wayne White was checking on some of his properties, when he noticed what appeared to be clouds starting to swirl ahead of him. He began recording and pulled his car over.
As of 9:30 a.m., one or more tornadoes had damaged several residential buildings and mobile homes in North Myrtle Beach, a city spokesman, Patrick Dowling, told The Washington Post. No one was injured, he said, but some residents were evacuated to shelters.
Local emergency management officials said the number of potential tornadoes was surprising, and they had expected them to come more sporadically. Dowling said the hurricane’s strong winds are also preventing the tide from receding entirely, blocking storm water from exiting into the ocean.
“The next high tide,” he said, which will be around 1:30 p.m., “will further exacerbate the problem.”
While N.C. focuses on getting ahead of hurricanes, some residents hesitate to move
NEW BERN, N. C.— A triple blow of devastating hurricanes — Matthew in 2016, Florence in September 2018, and Michael weeks later — has had a profound impact on the thinking here. The debate is no longer about “if” another megastorm will come but “when.”
As a result, state leaders are attempting to shift their approach to extreme weather from reactive to proactive. Among the new strategies is an effort to buy out homeowners in neighborhoods that have been struck multiple times and move them to safer locations. The state recently established an Office of Recovery and Resiliency in part to halt the cycle of destruction and rebuilding, identifying less-vulnerable locations to move people such as Teresa Seal and her neighbors before they have to be rescued by boat.
— Kirk Ross and Frances Stead Sellers
Awaiting Dorian with memories of Hurricane Florence’s flooding
NEW BERN, N. C.— Residents in this storm-weary city are putting sandbags around homes and businesses, moving vehicles to high ground, and keeping a close eye on the track of Hurricane Dorian, which is expected to drive waters from Pamilco Sound up the Neuse River.
The expectations are for a storm not as dire as last year’s Hurricane Florence, which delivered a devastating combination of high storm surge and heavy upstream rainfall to the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers next to New Bern’s historic downtown.
Stanley Kite, director of Emergency Services for Craven County, said four shelters have been open in the county with about 65 residents checking in as of midnight Wednesday. Residents with medical needs seeking refuge were taken to a large state-run shelter farther inland, while a voluntary evacuation is in effect for anyone living in the 100-year flood plain.
“This storm is still a good ways off,” Kite said. “It could change in intensity, it could change in direction.”
The forecast calls for a storm surge of four to six feet. That could easily rise, but likely not to levels Craven County saw during Florence when a 12-foot storm surge flooded the bottom floor of the county courthouse in New Bern, where Kite and his team are based. Kite expects a lot of debris, downed trees and limbs, as well as some storm surge flooding, and damage from wind-driven rain.
Memories of Florence are still vivid here, and the damage is still evident, especially in low-lying neighborhoods where many residents are still living in RVs next to their flooded homes.
“One thing we’re keeping in mind is that we still have a lot of damaged structures from Florence. We still have a lot of tarps on roofs,” Kite said. “I really hate it for those individuals because they’re definitely going to get hit again.”
Wind, rain and power outages in S.C.
BLUFFTON, S.C.-- Residents of the Hilton Head Island area are still experiencing rain and wind after Dorian’s eye passed by the coast overnight. Winds reaching a little more than 60 miles per hour were recorded in Hilton Head Island, S.C., and Tybee Island, Ga., overnight.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) lifted the mandatory evacuation orders for Chatham County, where Savannah is located, at about 10:30 Thursday morning. He also lifted evacuations for Bryan, Camden, Glynn, Liberty and McIntosh counties, encompassing the Georgia coast.
In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster (R) has left the evacuation in effect.
Residents of Beaufort County, S.C., have reported power outages and some downed trees. Dominion Energy, formerly South Carolina Gas & Electric, reported having 153,022 customers without power in the state at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Palmetto Electric Cooperative reported about 6,000 customers in the Lowcountry without power.
In Wilmington, sitting through wind and hoping to avoid a direct hit
WILMINGTON, N.C. — As soon as the latest band of rain passed Thursday morning, the dog walkers were out in the old, historic part of this port town.
“People who have been here a while know that [Dorian] is going to be offshore and not going to hit us hard,” said Steve Miller, a retiree walking his lab, Jackson, beneath the live oaks that line 3rd Street.
Miller, who said he’s been through “every hurricane since 1954” in this storm-plagued town, said last year’s Hurricane Florence, which flooded much of the area, caused only $400 of roof damage to his 120-year-old house. One street over, Laura and Bob McCantes, 66 and 67, moved into their new home Saturday from the North Carolina mountain town of Blowing Rock.
“We are 50 feet above the [cape Fear] river here, so I’m not too worried,” said Laura McCantes. “But the last time we moved it was right before Hugo, and we moved right where it made landfall. Now we’re trying it again, and this one is coming in. Maybe it’s our fault.”
Her new neighbor, Winifred Williams, 68, laughed and invited the McCanteses over to “porch sit” as soon as the storm passes. She pointed out the home of a couple, 92 and 85 years old, whom the neighbors watch over. They didn’t evacuate, nor did hardly any others on this inland ridge.
“Hurricanes are like cats,” concluded Laura McCantes, as Williams’s one-eyed cat strode by, sending the couples’ dogs into a frenzy.
If Hurricane Dorian makes N.C. landfall, it will be first Category 3 to do so in decades
Hurricane Dorian was lashing South Carolina on Thursday and was expected to do the same to North Carolina on Friday. While it is unclear if the storm will make landfall, doing so in North Carolina would make it the first since 1996, according to the Capital Weather Gang.
The storm reduced paradise to a miserable heap
The impact was catastrophic. As one resident said: “This was nothing like we’ve ever seen.”
Some S.C. residents opted to stay put
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — At the Walmart Supercenter here, shoppers and employees raced to finish last-minute preparations as the 24-hour store readied to close early Wednesday evening. Bags of mulch were piled against the building’s side doors as residents loaded their cars with bottled water and canned food.
Don Habibi cut a West Coast trip short to return home and help his family brace for the potentially devastating storm. They’ve been through “many, many, many” hurricanes, he said, loading up his car in the Walmart parking lot.
As Hurricane Florence bore down last year, the family evacuated. But getting back home was so much trouble, Habibi said, that they decided to stay put.
“We’ve not had the fear struck in us to leave,” said Habibi, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
One row of cars down, James Campbell was feeling just as defiant. “I’ve been running the past few years, and I’m not moving this year,” the 28-year-old Myrtle Beach resident said.
All the evacuations add up — the gas, hotel rooms and food for him, his girlfriend and his daughter, it’s too expensive, he said. He, too, has been through several storms, but this year’s may be the first his 6-year-old actually remembers.
“She’s getting curious, asking questions,” Campbell said. “Like, ‘Why are we at Walmart so late?’ ”
The store began turning people away at 8 p.m. as it prepared to shut down. Roger German got in just in time. The self-employed contractor had found plenty of work earlier that day.
“I was just boarding up houses on the beach all day,” he said. “Everyone decided to prepare at the last minute. I haven’t been able to do a whole lot of prepping myself. ”
But, he conceded, he wasn’t going to do too much preparation anyway. “I don’t really think this’ll be a bad one,” he said. “I’m just going to go home and hope my TV stays on.”
Jasper Ward in Nassau, Bahamas, contributed to this report.