MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas – Conditions gradually worsened in the Bahamas on Sunday morning as the islands began to feel the brunt of Hurricane Dorian.
Strong winds and driving rain have been pounding the Bahamas as the powerful Category 5 storm begins to move across the region.
The Bahamian government urged people to evacuate and offered a warning to those who didn't.
"The police will not be coming for you in the middle of a hurricane," said Deirde Fox, Assistant Administrator, Bahamas Government. "If your head is hard and stubborn and you will not move, you will have to hunker down."
Local 10's Jenise Fernandez reported on the intense wind gusts as Dorian's eye neared Marsh Harbour.
Conditions began to deteriorate after 6 a.m., with wind speed picking up seemingly every hour.
Officials are concerned about storm surge from Dorian, especially due to the slow speed of the massive storm.
According to the National Hurricane Center, storm surge is expected to reach between 18 and 23 feet in the Abaco Islands, which is the eastern side of the Bahamas.
"73,000 residents would be impacted by this storm and 21,000 homes would be impacted," said Hubert Minnis, Bahamian Prime Minister.
The catastrophic Category 5 hurricane had wind speeds reaching 175 mph late Sunday morning.
The eye of Hurricane Dorian is expected to begin moving through the Bahamas around noon.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis warned earlier that Dorian is a "dangerous storm" and said any "who do not evacuate are placing themselves in extreme danger and can expect a catastrophic consequence."
Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for Grand Bahama island, said the government was providing last-minute transportation for people in certain communities.
"Please, please heed the warning," he said. "We have no more time available."
Officials said dozens of people were ignoring evacuation orders, and they were warned that they were placing their lives in danger.
"The end could be fatal," said Samuel Butler, assistant police commissioner. "We ask you, we beg you, we plead with you to get to a place of safety."
Among those refusing to leave were 32 people in Sweetings Cay, and a group that sought safety in Old Bahama Bay resort, which officials said was not safe.
Butler said officials were closing certain roads with heavy equipment and warned that those on the other side would be stranded until after Dorian has passed. The government has opened 14 shelters across the Bahamas.
"We cannot stress the amount of devastation and catastrophic impact that Hurricane Dorian is expected to bring," said Shavonne Moxey-Bonamy, the Bahamas chief meteorologist.
On Saturday, small skiffs shuttled between outlying fishing communities and McLean's Town, a settlement of a few dozen homes at the eastern end of Grand Bahama island, about 150 miles from Florida's Atlantic coast. Most came from Sweetings Cay, a fishing town of a few hundred people about 5 feet above sea level.
"We're not taking no chances," said Margaret Bassett, a ferry boat driver for the Deep Water Cay resort. "They said evacuate, you have to evacuate."
But Jack Pittard, a 76-year-old American who has been traveling to the Bahamas for 40 years, said he has decided to ride out the storm in The Abaco Islands. He said it's the first hurricane he will experience in his life.
"There's fear," he said by phone Sunday as the eyewall approached. "I'm worried about destruction of property, but I don't believe there's going to be loss of lives here."
Pittard said he battened up his house and is spending the storm in a nearby duplex behind a group of cottages that a friend owns. He noted the ocean is quite deep near where he's staying, and there's a cay that provides protection, so he doesn't expect significant storm surge.
"I'm not afraid of dying here," said Pittard, who lives in Lexington, Kentucky.
Meanwhile, hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach warned of Dorian's catastrophic strength: "Abaco is going to get wiped."
Over two or three days, the slow-moving hurricane could dump as much as 4 feet of rain, unleash devastating winds and whip up a dangerous storm surge, said private meteorologist Ryan Maue, seconding some of the most reliable computer models.
Government spokesman Kevin Harris said Dorian was expected to affect 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes. Authorities closed airports for The Abaco Islands, Grand Bahama and Bimini, but Lynden Pindling International Airport in the capital of Nassau remained open.
Jeffrey Allen, who lives in Freeport on Grand Bahama, said he had learned after several storms that damage predictions sometimes don't materialize, but he still takes precautions.
"It's almost as if you wait with anticipation, hoping that it's never as bad as they say it will be. However, you prepare for the worst nonetheless," he said.
The Bahamas archipelago is frequently hit by hurricanes. Construction codes require homes to have metal reinforcements for roof beams to withstand winds into the upper limits of a Category 4 hurricane, and compliance is generally tight for residents who can afford it. Risks are higher in poorer communities, which typically have wooden homes and are generally in lower-lying areas.
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