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Hurricane Dorian weakens to Category 2 as it heads toward Florida coast

Key Points
  • Hurricane Dorian has weakened to a Category 2 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 110 miles per hour.
  • The southeastern U.S. is bracing for the storm's arrival as it is expected to hit parts of the coast by mid-week.
VIDEO1:5701:57
Hurricane Dorian batters the Bahamas, killing five

Hurricane Dorian, one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record, weakened slightly on Tuesday to a Category 2 storm as it inches closer to the Florida coast.

The core of Dorian is moving away from Grand Bahama Island, said the National Hurricane Center. It's moving nearly parallel to, but offshore of, the east coast of Florida.

The downgraded storm has picked up speed to 6 miles per hour (9.6 kph), but its strength on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale still indicates maximum sustained winds of 110 miles per hour (177 kph).

Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Tuesday the death toll from the hurricane has risen to seven people, and that more deaths are expected.

The government of the Bahamas changed the hurricane warning to a tropical storm warning for Grand Bahama and the Abacos Islands in the northwestern Bahamas. The

Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center issued a new hurricane warning for the area spanning from Sebastian Inlet, Florida to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida and from North of the Savannah River to Surf City, North Carolina. A hurricane warning indicates that hurricane conditions are expected in the area and "preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion."

There is also a storm surge warning for the region extending from Jupiter Inlet, Florida, to Surf City, North Carolina, advising that there is a "danger of life-threatening inundation" during the next 36 hours.

A tropical storm warning still remains in effect along the eastern coastal line from Florida to South Carolina, indicating that tropical storm conditions are expected to reach the area within 36 hours.

Dorian is likely to arrive in the east-central region and northeast coast of Florida later Tuesday night. Then, it will move up the Georgia coast, striking South Carolina on Wednesday and North Carolina on Thursday, according to the storm's current trajectory.

VIDEO1:4201:42
Watch Air Force's Hurricane Hunters fly directly into Hurricane Dorian

Forecasters have told Floridians not to become complacent, as the storm is now predicted to stay off the coast.

"It's not that far off shore," said Robbie Berg, a forecaster and hurricane specialist with the NHC.

"All it has to do is jog a little bit west and you have a full-on hurricane rolling through Florida," he said. "No one is out of the woods."

The storm pounded Grand Bahama Island on Tuesday and stalled in the area for several hours.

Dorian struck the Bahamas for days, inundating homes with floodwater ahead of its expected advance on the U.S. coast.

The exact toll of the devastation in the Bahamas will not be certain until Dorian clears out of the area and rescue crews can get in.

"We are in the midst of a historic tragedy in parts of our northern Bahamas," Minnis said at a news conference on Monday. "Our mission and focus now is search, rescue and recovery."

He added that the U.S. Coast Guard was able to get on the ground in Abaco and rescue a number of injured people. Critically injured patients are currently being treated at hospitals in New Providence, the country's most populous island.

As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas were demolished by the hurricane, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Evacuations

At least ten counties in Florida have so far issued mandatory evacuations, with two more counties issuing orders midday on Tuesday, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. They include parts of Duval County, home to Jacksonville, one of Florida's two biggest cities, and some areas in Palm Beach County, home to President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis urged coastal residents to heed evacuation orders.

The storm is causing havoc among travelers across the country as multiple airports are closing and airlines have announced more than 1,400 cancellations in and out of the U.S.

Orlando International Airport, one of the largest in the state, plans to halt all commercial operations by 2 a.m. on Tuesday due to the storm.

Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando is also closing early on Tuesday.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster issued mandatory evacuation orders for parts of eight coastal counties effective at noon on Monday. More than 830,000 people along the South Carolina coast will be under these orders.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp ordered evacuations in six counties, including all of Savannah's 150,000 residents, also effective at noon on Monday.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in his state, anticipating the storm will hit the southeast coast on Thursday.

Dorian was tied with Gilbert (1988), Wilma (2005) and the 1935 Labor Day hurricane for the second-strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, based on maximum sustained winds. Hurricane Allen in 1980 was the most powerful, with 190-mile (306-kph) winds, the NHC said.

— Reuters contributed to this report.