MIAMI: Florida residents stocked up on bottled water, groceries and gasoline on Thursday (Aug 29) as Hurricane Dorian gathered strength and churned across the Atlantic Ocean on a collision course with the southern US state.
Weather forecasters said Dorian, currently a Category 1 storm - the lowest on a five-level scale - could make landfall as a dangerous Category 4 hurricane.
Florida's governor declared a state of emergency, warning the millions of people who live up and down the eastern coast of the "Sunshine State" to prepare for a potentially major hurricane.
"All Floridians really need to monitor Hurricane Dorian and make the necessary preparations," Governor Ron DeSantis said. "Have your plan and make those preparations right now."
President Donald Trump, who has properties including the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, also warned Floridians to get ready.
"Hurricane Dorian looks like it will be hitting Florida late Sunday night," he said on Twitter. "Be prepared ... it will be a very big Hurricane, perhaps one of the biggest!"
In its latest advisory, the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) in Miami said Dorian was a Category 1 hurricane packing maximum sustained winds of 140 kilometres per hour.
It was located 355 kilometres north-northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and moving at 20 kilometres per hour on a northwest track towards Florida, where it was forecast to make landfall overnight on Sunday.
"Strengthening is forecast during the next few days, and Dorian is expected to become a major hurricane on Friday, and remain an extremely dangerous hurricane through the weekend," the NHC said.
Puerto Rico, still recovering from a powerful storm two years ago, was largely spared from Dorian but the NHC said it could dump up to 20 centimetres of rain on some parts of the Bahamas.
As it approaches Florida, Dorian could be a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 210 kilometres per hour and the potential to cause life-threatening storm surge along the coast, the NHC said.
PUERTO RICO SPARED
In Puerto Rico, the new governor, Wanda Vazquez, gave the all clear but there was no let-up in the political storm involving Trump and Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, the island's capital.
"Now that Dorian is going to the east coast let us hope that @realDonaldTrump sets aside his prejudice and racism & moves the federal response to efficiency," the San Juan mayor tweeted.
"I hope we do not see any insulting references to the people of Florida or self aggrandizement tweets," she added.
Trump declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico ahead of Hurricane Dorian, authorising federal assistance, but alleged that the island is "one of the most corrupt places on earth."
"Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt," the president said on Twitter.
Puerto Rico was devastated in 2017 by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm.
It shattered the island's already shaky power grid, overwhelmed public services and left many residents homeless.
A study accepted as valid by the government, which initially put the death toll at 64, estimated that nearly 3,000 people died as a result of the hurricane and the months of disruption that followed.
Dorian, though far less powerful, was the first major test of the island's halting recovery.