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The storm, which ravaged the Bahamas with more than a full day of devastating wind and rain, had weakened substantially – dropping from a Category 5 storm to a Category 2. But it regained strength Wednesday, achieving Category 3 force wind that threatened to swamp low-lying regions from Georgia to southeastern Virginia on its trek northward.
Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center said Dorian remained at Category 3 strength with 115 mph wind. The eye of the storm sat 50 miles south of Charleston, moving north at 8 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 60 miles from its center.
An estimated 3 million people in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina had been warned to clear out, and highways leading inland were turned into one-way evacuation routes.
Forecasters said there was the danger of life-threatening floods as storm surge moves inland from the coastline, as well as the potential for over a foot of rain in some spots.
“Hurricane Dorian has its sights set on North Carolina,” Gov. Roy Cooper said. “We will be ready.”
As the threat to Florida eased and the danger shifted farther up the coast, Orlando’s airport reopened, along with Walt Disney World and Universal. To the north, ships at the big Norfolk, Virginia, naval base were ordered to head out to sea for safety, and warplanes at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia were sent inland.
The U.S. mainland recorded its first death in connection with the hurricane, that of an 85-year-old man in North Carolina who fell off a ladder while preparing his home for the storm. Dorian was also blamed for one death in Puerto Rico.
Atlantic Beach residents hoping for the best but preparing for the worst
On Tybee Island, Georgia, Debbie and Tony Pagan stacked their beds and couches atop other furniture and covered their doors with plastic wrap and sandbags before evacuating. Their home flooded during both Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017.
“It’s a terrible way to live,” Debbie Pagan said. “We have the whole month of September and October to go. How would you like to be living on pins and needles?”
Another Tybee islander, Sandy Cason, said: “The uncertainty and the unknown are the worst part. Just not knowing what’s going to be here when you get back.”
Along King Street in historic Charleston, South Carolina, dozens of shops and restaurants typically bustling with tourists were boarded up, plywood and corrugated metal over windows and doors, as the flood-prone downtown area braced for high water.
Mark Russell, an Army veteran who has lived in South Carolina much of his life, went to a hurricane shelter right away. As for those who hesitated to do so, he said: “If they go through it one time, maybe they’ll understand.”
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Copyright © 2019 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved – The Associated Press contributed to this report.