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After Hurricane Dorian ravages the Bahamas, U.S. officials fight storm ‘complacency’

Hurricane Dorian hovered over parts of the Bahamas for more than 20 hours, leaving immense devastation and stranded residents in its wake. The weakening storm’s slow progression toward the southeastern U.S. meant officials in Florida and South Carolina were trying to stem complacency, urging that coastal residents evacuate just in case. John Yang reports and joins Judy Woodruff with the latest.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hurricane Dorian is finally moving again, after ravaging the Bahamas. The storm began swirling slowly closer to the U.S. mainland today. It has lost some of its punch, but leaves utter ruin in its wake.

    John Yang has been watching, from Jacksonville, Florida.

  • John Yang:

    After Hurricane Dorian sat over the Northern Bahamas, residents woke up to find their homes surrounded by floodwaters. Some had to flee through waters chest-high. Dorian's eye hovered over Grand Bahama, the northernmost island, for more than 20 hours, bringing almost total devastation.

  • Iram Lewis:

    We're getting a lot of distress calls, persons needing rescued needing to be rescued, but we cannot get to them right now. As you can tell, we are going to need a lot, a lot of support after this hurricane is over.

  • John Yang:

    Torrential rains inundated homes and submerged the Grand Bahama Airport under six feet of water. Dorian weakened to a Category 2 storm this morning, as winds dipped below 110 miles an hour.

    Forecasters say Dorian will move dangerously close to the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, running parallel to the Florida coast through tomorrow evening. Then they expect it to continue north toward Georgia and South Carolina.

    While the storm's core is expected to remain offshore, heavy rains, strong winds and dangerous storm surges are expected to reach land. More than two million people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have been warned to evacuate.

  • Henry McMaster:

    Our message for today is this: This is a very serious storm, and a western shift that is towards land of just a few miles could bring enormous damage to our state. So we want everyone to heed the warning. The best thing to do is to be safe. Don't be sorry. Be safe. Leave.

  • John Yang:

    Some parts of the Florida east coast began to feel the storm's wrath early this morning. Outer rain bands and winds sent waves crashing onshore. But, in other areas, sunshine and surf lured people outdoors.

    Given the dire forecasts that began last week, some took the latest warnings in stride.

  • Rodney Mills:

    Just another storm. I'm from Atlantic City, New Jersey, and we always have storms and all that, you know? Just another storm to me. It doesn't bother me.

  • John Yang:

    Others were on edge.

  • Scott Renfree:

    At one point, it was supposed to be almost a direct hit here. So, we were really geared up for the worst of the worst. And it went from being at a really elevated, kind of antsy, scared moment, to, you know, being able to relax a little more, but, at the same time, just wanting it to go through, so we can get back to our normal lives.

  • John Yang:

    That uncertainty poses a challenge for local emergency response officials.

  • Linda Stoughton:

    If you want to leave, we will let you leave.

  • John Yang:

    Linda Stoughton is the director of emergency management for St. Johns County, south of Jacksonville.

  • Linda Stoughton:

    We just want them to stay vigilant this time. Do we worry about them saying, well, it may not be this level of storm? Yes, we do worry about that.

  • John Yang:

    Her team is urging residents to stay alert.

  • Linda Stoughton:

    There is a level of patience that comes with this. The storm was stationary, moving at one mile per hour, back to moving one mile per hour. So the storm is in charge of its timeline. We have to flex to that timeline, but be ready when it does arrive and take care of this, our home.

  • John Yang:

    This morning, winds started picking up in the coastal city of St. Augustine, where Tracy Upchurch is mayor.

  • Tracy Upchurch:

    It's very hard to predict what's going to happen, and the timing is very confusing as to when we will feel the effects. We have had beautiful weather. That's why the sunglasses. It's been sunny all day until just this moment.

    So, keeping people focused, making sure they don't become complacent.

  • John Yang:

    Despite the optimistic forecast, Floridians know that things can change quickly.

    Right now in St. Augustine, we're beginning to feel the effects of the outer bands of Dorian. The wind has picked up. The skies are threatening. We have had some rain squalls. Everyone here, folks are hoping that Dorian stays far enough offshore that the damage will be limited to beach erosion along the coastal areas.

    But, just in case, folks have boarded up homes, stores, and shop fronts all along the waterfront here in St. Augustine — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, John, we can see the wind has picked up there.

    You told us you have been talking to officials, to people in Florida about rescue efforts in the Bahamas. Tell us what you have learned about that.

  • John Yang:

    Well, the Coast Guard is working hand in hand with Bahamian officials.

    This morning, a C-130 took off from the Coast Guard station in Clearwater. That's on the gulf side. It flew to Andros Island. It was filled with medical personnel and medical supplies. Andros Island is also where the Coast Guard has established a base of operations for helicopters for search-and-rescue operations.

    Already, 19 people have been evacuated from Marsh Harbour Hospital in the Northern Bahamas and flown to Nassau, the capital, where damage has been very light.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we know they were waiting to get in there.

    And, John, what about private relief agencies? What are you learning about what they're able to do now?

  • John Yang:

    Well, producers Jaywon Choe and Jason Kane have been talking to a number of private relief agencies. They're organizing. They're getting together. They're planning to begin as soon as tomorrow flying supplies to Nassau.

    But the challenge is getting it to where it's needed in the outer islands, because airports are still underwater. And it's very difficult to reach those areas, but they will be using Nassau as a staging area.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    John Yang reporting for us from Florida, where they are still awaiting the brunt of this storm.

    Thank you, John.

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