President Trump on Thursday canceled his trip to Poland over the Labor Day weekend and instead will monitor Hurricane Dorian’s expected landfall, calling the safety of Floridians in its path his “highest priority.”
Mr. Trump said he will send Vice President Mike Pence overseas in his place as he monitors the biggest storm of the Atlantic hurricane season so far.
“It’s something very important for me, to be here. The storm looks like it could be a very, very big one indeed,” Mr. Trump said from the White House Rose Garden.
Mr. Trump said he offered his best wishes to Polish President Andrzej Duda and will reschedule his visit.
Mr. Trump previously canceled part of the same trip, dumping a stop in Copenhagen after a spat with the Danish prime minister over his interest in buying Greenland. His decision to forgo the first leg will be a blow to Poland, which saw Mr. Trump as the star of ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.
The president said he must “ensure that all resources of the federal government” are focused on Dorian, which is on course to cause havoc along the East Coast.
“Our highest priority is the safety and security of the people in the path of the hurricane,” Mr. Trump said.
The National Hurricane Center said the Category 1 storm is expected to strengthen into a potentially catastrophic Category 4 with sustained winds of 130 mph and make landfall Monday somewhere between the Florida Keys and southern Georgia — a 500-mile stretch that reflected the high degree of uncertainty.
“If it makes landfall as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, that’s a big deal,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. “A lot of people are going to be affected. A lot of insurance claims.”
With the storm’s track not clear, no immediate mass evacuations were ordered. Dorian blew through the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a Category 1 hurricane Wednesday.
Puerto Rico was spared any heavy wind and rain, a huge relief on an island where blue tarps still cover some 30,000 homes nearly two years after Hurricane Maria. The island’s 3.2 million inhabitants depend on an unstable power grid that remains prone to outages since it was destroyed by Maria.
Mr. Trump tweeted about the storm earlier in the week, though mainly to relitigate fights over his response to Maria, the amount of federal aid that Puerto Rico received and corruption scandals in the U.S. territory.
By Thursday, he expressed relief that the island was spared another catastrophe but urged the mainland to take caution.
“Puerto Rico is in great shape with Hurricane Dorian taking a largely different route than anticipated,” he tweeted. “Thank you to FEMA, first responders, and all, for working so hard & being so well prepared. A great result! The bad news, Florida get ready!”
Mr. Trump has special ties to the Sunshine State. His beloved Mar-a-Lago estate is in Palm Beach, and the swing state holds political meaning for the president — it backed him in 2016, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is a key Republican ally.
Along Florida’s Atlantic coast, local governments began distributing sandbags, shoppers rushed to stock up on food, plywood and other emergency supplies at supermarkets and hardware stores, and motorists topped off their fuel tanks and filled gasoline cans. Some fuel shortages were reported in the Cape Canaveral area.
Dorian is expected to pick up steam as it pushes into warm waters with favorable winds, Mr. McNoldy said. “Starting tomorrow, it really has no obstacles left in its way,” he added.
Forecasters said Dorian could bring 4 to 8 inches of rain to the Southeastern coast, with a foot possible in places, and trigger life-threatening flash floods.
Also imperiled were the Bahamas, with Dorian’s expected track running just to the north of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.
Jeff Byard, an associate administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warned that Dorian is likely to “create a lot of havoc with infrastructure, power and roads,” but he gave assurances that FEMA is prepared to handle it, even though the Trump administration is shifting hundreds of millions of dollars from FEMA and other agencies to deal with immigration at the Mexican border.
“This is going to be a big storm. We’re prepared for a big response,” Mr. Byard said.
Mr. DeSantis declared a state of emergency, clearing the way to bring in more fuel and call out the National Guard if necessary, and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp followed suit.
At the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, NASA decided to move indoors the mobile launch platform for its mega rocket under development. Royal Caribbean and Carnival began rerouting their cruise ships. A Rolling Stones concert Saturday at the Hard Rock Stadium near Miami was moved up to Friday night.
The hurricane season typically peaks between mid-August and late October. One of the most powerful storms ever to hit the U.S. was on Labor Day 1935. The unnamed Category 5 hurricane crashed ashore along Florida’s Gulf Coast on Sept. 2. It was blamed for more than 400 deaths.
Several hundred customers were without power across Puerto Rico, said Angel Figueroa, president of a utility workers union. Police said an 80-year-old man in the town of Bayamon died after he fell trying to climb to his roof to clear it of debris ahead of the storm.
Dorian caused an islandwide blackout in St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and scattered outages in St. Croix, government spokesman Richard Motta said.
No serious damage was reported in the British Virgin Islands, where Gov. Augustus Jaspert said crews were clearing roads and inspecting infrastructure.⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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