Hurricane Dorian, back to a category three storm, has begun raking the south-east US seaboard.
It is threatening to inundate low-lying coasts from Georgia to south-west Virginia with a dangerous storm surge after its deadly mauling of the Bahamas.
Dorian had crashed into the island nation as its strongest hurricane on record earlier this week, but had weakened greatly since – down from a category five to a category two storm before increasing again late on Wednesday.
It still boasts dangerously high winds of 115 mph as it is sideswiping the coasts of Georgia and North and South Carolina.
In South Carolina, more than 1,500 people have sought refuge in 28 shelters as authorities worried about the historic and vulnerable port city of Charleston.
Dorian was centred overnight about 105 miles south of Charleston and moving north, just offshore.
Earlier this week, Dorian left wide devastation and at least 20 dead in striking the northern Bahamas.
A flood chart posted by the National Weather Service projected a combined high tide and storm surge around Charleston Harbour of 10.3 feet; The record, 12.5 feet, was set by Hugo in 1989.
Stores and restaurants were boarded up with wood and corrugated metal in the city’s central area, and about 830,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders on the South Carolina coast.
Mark Russell, a homeless US Army veteran, said he had been in a shelter since Monday awaiting slow-moving Dorian.
“Once the rain comes and the wind hits, it’s going to blow left, right, in and out, and there’s not really a place that you can find” to avoid it, said Russell, 63.
In North Carolina, where authorities said an 85-year-old man died after falling from a ladder while getting ready for the storm, governor Roy Cooper warned about the threat of storm surge and flash flooding from heavy rains.
Georgia’s coastal islands were also at risk, the state’s governor Brian Kemp said.
“We are very worried, especially about the barrier islands getting cut off if we have these storm surges at the same time as … the high tides,” Kemp said.
The acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Peter Gaynor, said 4,000 federal emergency personnel; 6,000 National Guard members; and 40,000 utility workers were on standby for the hurricane.
With the threat to Florida easing and the danger shifting northward, Orlando, Florida’s international airport reopened, as did Walt Disney World and Universal.
Dorian forced the Disney Cruise Line to cancel one trip and delay the return of another ship to Port Canaveral, Florida.
The Navy ordered ships at its huge base in Norfolk, Virginia, to head out to sea for safety, and warplanes at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, were being moved inland to Ohio.
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