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After Hurricane Dorian slams the Bahamas, southeastern U.S. awaits its next move

Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm at first, causing major destruction and flooding. Now Florida residents wait with trepidation to see if Dorian will make landfall there, where many are still recovering, both physically and emotionally, from the wreckage of previous storms. John Yang joins Judy Woodruff with the latest.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hurricane Dorian pummeled the Bahamas today, leading to several deaths and what was called catastrophic damage. Officials confirmed at least five people died in the Abaco Islands. And there are many reports of people in serious distress tonight.

    The prime minister of the Bahamas called the storm — quote — "a historic tragedy."

    The damage was also on the minds of federal, state and local leaders in the U.S., as preparations continued for possible landfall this week.

    John Yang reports from Florida.

  • John Yang:

    Hurricane Dorian carved a slow, destructive path across the Bahamas today. It made landfall yesterday with winds exceeding 185 miles per hour, a Category 5 storm, the strongest on record to strike the island nation. Dorian weakened to a Category 4 storm this morning, but continued lashing the Bahamas.

    The winds rocked trees. Torrential rains triggered massive flooding.

  • Prime Minister Hubert Minnis:

    Some areas, you cannot tell the difference as to the beginning of the street vs. where the ocean begins.

  • John Yang:

    The storm toppled power poles and damaged vehicles. The current forecast envisions Dorian moving dangerously close to the Southeastern U.S. Seaboard, offshore of Florida's East Coast tonight through Wednesday evening. It's expected to pass near the Carolinas, where states of emergency have now been declared.

    Even a minor deviation could send Dorian onshore. But if it doesn't make landfall, it still has the potential to do major damage. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis:

  • Ron DeSantis:

    Hurricane Dorian has shown what it is capable of. It's absolutely battered the Bahamas. Our East Coast is certainly within the cone still, and people need to remain vigilant. If you're ordered to evacuate, you need to do that.

  • John Yang:

    At the Good Samaritan Society's retirement community in Kissimmee, outside Orlando, a fleet of ambulances transported seniors to a sister facility on higher ground. The community was flooded after Hurricane Irma in 2017.

    Throughout Florida, past experiences are shaping residents' responses.

    Ivette Alsina of Winter Haven, south of Orlando, stocked up on sandbags, and other emergency supplies.

    You got everything ready here. You're all prepared.

  • Ivette Alsina:

    Almost prepared. I think I'm prepared. I got the batteries, flashlight, a first kit. I got food, water. Everything is set.

  • John Yang:

    Alsina is among the tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who moved to Florida after surviving 2017's Hurricane Maria.

    How did you feel when you heard about this hurricane and that it might be coming and hitting Florida?

  • Ivette Alsina:

    I felt fear and anxiety.

  • John Yang:

    Anxiety?

  • Ivette Alsina:

    Yes, because it's really bad. I was in Puerto Rico when Maria passed. And thinking that that is coming here right now is really bad.

  • John Yang:

    She evacuated from Cayey, Puerto Rico, 10 days after Maria to get treatment for high blood pressure. Storm warnings this week have put her back on high alert.

  • Ivette Alsina:

    Three days ago, I went to the doctor. He gave me a lot of medicines, so I can be calm through the toll of these days.

  • John Yang:

    Other Puerto Ricans in the area are also feeling tense.

  • Millie Santiago (through translator):

    I'm not the only one. I have received a lot of calls from Puerto Rican families who ended up here because of Maria. They're in critical states of anxiety.

  • John Yang:

    Millie Santiago is another survivor of Hurricane Maria. She's helping 22 families staying at an Episcopal Church conference center outside Orlando, where mental health counselors are on hand.

    Yemanja Krasnow is a University of Central Florida clinician and social worker.

  • Yemanja Krasnow:

    A lot of the Puerto Ricans that came to Central Florida post-Maria, they had some very traumatic experience. It wasn't just the storm. There was loss of lives.

    There was loss of house, of pets, of properties, of businesses. So there was a compound of trauma going on, not just the experience of the hurricane itself.

  • John Yang:

    In Jacksonville, restaurant owner Andy Zarka is preparing for the possibility his business might end up underwater, as it did during Hurricane Irma.

  • Andy Zarka:

    They told us two years ago that Irma was a once-in-a-lifetime storm, that there's no — it's never happened like that and it's never going to happen again. And now here we are two years later, and we're getting ready for what could be Irma 2.0.

  • John Yang:

    On Jacksonville Beach, residents enjoyed a pleasant day while considering their next steps.

  • Walter Chown:

    We are going to take our time on making a decision to leave. But, especially having children, we don't want to make — be foolhardy or make bad decisions.

  • John Yang:

    Others took advantage of the high Atlantic waves Dorian churned up. But few expect the calm to last long.

    Here on Jacksonville Beach, the winds and the waves already picking up, even though the brunt of Hurricane Dorian won't be felt for another 48 hours or so. Just a little bit ago, the Orlando Airport announced it is suspending operations overnight tonight, which means that every major airport on the eastern side of Florida from West Palm Beach to Daytona Beach is now closed.

    And, Judy, even if Dorian doesn't make landfall, it doesn't mean there won't be any damage. The track it's forecast to take is very similar to Hurricane Matthew about — in 2016. That storm too stayed off the coast, never made landfall all the way to North Carolina. It caused about $3 billion of damage and claimed 12 lives — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we remember that well.

    So, John, I — you were telling us you have been talking to a lot of people there in Florida about the decisions they're having to make about whether to go, whether to stay.

    Tell us a little about what they're saying.

  • John Yang:

    Well, this hurricane has been sort of on the news and in the headlines for about a week now. They started talking about it last Monday.

    The good news is, that's given a lot of people a lot of time to plan. The bad news may be, it's also given a lot of people time to worry, and anxiety levels are high.

    But I thought that with the — perhaps with the storm taking so long to get here, with it slowing down over the Bahamas so much, that some people might become complacent. But the people I have talked to say that they know what storms can do.

    This is the — would be the eighth major hurricane to hit Florida since 2000. And a lot of people say that they know what storms can do, they respect their power. And they also point to Andrew, the storm in 1992 that did about $27 billion worth of damage, killed 65.

    They say, since then, they take every storm seriously.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, John, they are now issuing, what, evacuation orders in Georgia and in the Carolinas.

  • John Yang:

    That's right, up and down the coast.

    Low-lying coastal counties — actually, all the counties along the coast have mandatory evacuation orders in place. And in South Carolina, they have begun what they call contraflow. All the interstates going into Charleston, all the traffic is outbound — from Charleston to Columbia outbound, and the other parts of the state, the interstates all leading out of Charleston.

    You can't get into Charleston. They want people to leave.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

    Even with this hurricane still sitting over the Bahamas, so much havoc it is already creating up and down the East Coast.

    John Yang, reporting for us tonight from Jacksonville Beach, thank you, John.

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