Re-energized to 115 mph, Hurricane Dorian raked the Southeastern U.S. coast with howling, window-rattling winds and sideways rain Thursday, knocking out power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses as it pushed northward toward North Carolina's dangerously exposed Outer Banks.
Leaving at least 20 people dead in its wake in the devastated Bahamas, Dorian made its way up the Eastern Seaboard, sweeping past Florida on Wednesday at a relatively safe distance. From there, the Category 3 storm apparently grazed Georgia, then hugged the South Carolina coast with more serious effects.
An estimated 3 million people in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas were warned to evacuate as the storm closed in with the potential for life-threatening storm surge. Navy ships were ordered to ride it out at sea, and military aircraft were moved inland.
At least two deaths were reported on the U.S. mainland, in Florida and North Carolina, both involving men who fell while getting ready for the storm.
The National Hurricane Center's projected track showed Dorian passing near or over the Outer Banks on Friday, lashing the thin line of islands that stick out from the U.S. coast like a boxer's chin. Dorian was then expected to peel away from the shoreline.
In an assault that began over Labor Day weekend, Dorian pounded the Bahamas with Category 5 winds up to 185 mph (295 kph), obliterating entire neighborhoods and triggering a humanitarian crisis. It weakened to a Category 2 before strengthening again late Wednesday.
About 830,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders on the South Carolina coast alone.
More than 1,500 people sought refuge in 28 shelters in South Carolina, where rain began falling late Wednesday in the historic port city of Charleston, situated on a peninsula that is prone to flooding even from ordinary storms.
As Dorian crept dangerously closer, the wind picked up, sending sheets of rain sideways. Thunder boomed in the night sky, and power flickered on and off. More than two dozen blocks were closed by flooding in the city, where stores and restaurants downtown were boarded up with wood and corrugated metal.
Dorian remained a force to be reckoned with, its swirling circle of winds and rain wrapped around a large, gaping eye visible on photos taken from space.
At 8 a.m. EDT Thursday, the hurricane was centered about 70 miles (115 kilometers) southeast of Charleston, moving north at 8 mph (13 kph) with winds of 115 mph (185 kph) extending about 60 miles (95 kilometers) outward.
Hurricane warnings were in effect for the coasts of both South and North Carolina.
Hundreds of shelter animals from coastal South Carolina arrived in Delaware ahead of the storm. The News Journal of Wilmington, Delaware, said 200 were airlifted early Tuesday from shelters in danger of flooding. About 150 more were expected to arrive via land.
Hundreds of thousands of people also were ordered off the Georgia coast. But the mayor of Tybee Island, Georgia, said Dorian inflicted little damage overnight on the small beach community. Jason Buelterman said the storm spared the 3,000 residents from flooding, with high tide about 3 feet lower than predicted.
The lone highway linking the island to Savannah on the mainland remained open throughout the night.
"If the worst that comes out of this is people blame others for calling evacuations, then that's wonderful," Buelterman said.
Tybee Islander Bruce Pevey went outside to take photos of unscathed homes to text to neighbors who evacuated. The storm, he said, turned out to be "a bunch of nothing."
Associated Press reporters Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Jeffrey Collins in Carolina Beach, North Carolina; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Michael Schneider in Orlando, Florida; David Fischer in Miami; and Meg Kinnard in Charleston, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
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