The nearly deserted rain-lashed streets of Charleston, South Carolina, began to disappear beneath water on Thursday, as Hurricane Dorian churned a few dozen miles offshore after reducing parts of the Bahamas to rubble.
The water pooled in streets a few inches deep near the centuries-old waterfront. In certain low-lying blocks, it rose up to a foot, with high tide still hours away and forecasters warning of storm surges of up to 8 feet (2 meters).
John Rivers, 74, and his three children were among the few to be seen in the streets on Thursday morning. They cleared drains of branches, leaves and debris, using a shovel, a rake and their bare hands.
“As it’s low tide, we’re giving the water somewhere to go,” Rivers said, sheltering temporarily from the driving rain and gusts of wind under a covered walkway. His daughter Caroline, 12, pulled off her rubber boots one at a time, emptying a stream of water from each.
“I see this as a good life lesson for my kids,” Rivers said. “If we can help reduce the flooding, then we’ve done a good day’s work.”
Dorian, ebbing and flowing in strength about 50 miles (80 kilometers) offshore from Charleston, was a Category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale on Thursday. It was moving north no faster than a jogger as it skirted the east coast, and was forecast to make landfall in North Carolina late Thursday or early Friday.
Life-threatening storm surges and dangerous winds were possible in much of the coast of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, the National Weather Service said.
In at least one part of North Carolina, Dorian whipped up a tornado. In Charleston, it downed tree branches and power lines and tossed around trash cans.
Governors in the region declared states of emergency, closed schools, opened shelters, readied national guard troops and implored residents to take warnings seriously, as fresh images of the devastation wrought by the storm in the Bahamas earlier this week continued to circulate in the media.
At least 70,000 Bahamians needed immediate humanitarian relief after Dorian became the most damaging storm ever to hit the island nation.
In the Carolinas alone, more than 900,000 people had been ordered to evacuate their homes. It was unclear how many did so.
“The storm has regained strength, it is serious, and it can be deadly,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said at a news conference.
More than 210,000 homes and businesses were without power in South Carolina and Georgia early on Thursday, according to local electric companies.
It was dark outdoors, too, with thick storm clouds dimming the sun over Charleston. The wind noticeably strengthened as the morning progressed.
On South Battery, a historic street running down to the harbor, Brys Stephens tried to keep the water away from his stately gray home, built in the veranda-wrapped Southern style that lures crowds of tourists to the city all year.
He and his family pumped water out of the yard, the accumulation of an early-morning storm surge, and tried to reattach metal flood gates into the perimeter wall.
“The gates worked pretty well so far and we’ve managed to keep water away from the house,” Stephens said. “But we’ve got another storm surge coming later on, so we’ll see then if it holds.”