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Help at the ready for storm-stricken areas

As Florida braced for Hurricane Dorian’s wind and rain Tuesday, local cooperative Southwest Electric was waiting to see if its assistance would be needed.

Dorian, a category 2 storm, was centered about 105 miles east of Vero Beach, Florida, late in the day. Forecasters say Dorian is expected to move dangerously close to the coast of Florida and Georgia through tonight. It’s then predicted to move near or over the coast of South Carolina and North Carolina sometime Thursday through Friday morning.

“We have been contacted by electric cooperatives in Florida, but we are on a 24-hour hold right now,” Deb McGee with Southwest said. “The Florida cooperatives need to assess the damage before they will know how many crews to request from other states.  If our sister cooperatives in Florida need us, we are ready to live out our sixth cooperative principle, ‘Cooperation Among Cooperatives.’”

Magnolia Electric Power said it was not sending employees at this time, but contract crews have been released and are headed east toward areas expected to experience outages. Entergy contract crews were heading to Florida, according to media reports.

Dorian began lashing Florida’s east coast with tropical storm force winds Tuesday.

Relief officials Tuesday reported scenes of utter ruin in parts of the Bahamas and rushed to deal with an unfolding humanitarian crisis in the wake of the storm, the most powerful hurricane on record ever to hit the islands. At least five deaths were reported, with the full scope of the disaster still unknown.

The storm’s punishing winds and muddy brown floodwaters destroyed or severely damaged thousands of homes, crippled hospitals and trapped people in attics.

“It’s total devastation. It’s decimated. Apocalyptic. It looks like a bomb went off,” said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a local hurricane relief organization and flew over the Bahamas’ hard-hit Abaco Island. “It’s not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again.”

She said her representative on Abaco told her that “there’s a lot more dead” and that the bodies were being gathered up.

Emergency authorities, meanwhile, struggled to reach victims amid conditions too dangerous even for rescue workers, and urged people to hang on.

“We wanted to go out there, but that’s not a risk we’re capable of taking,” Tammy Mitchell of the Bahamas’ National Emergency Management Agency told ZNS Bahamas radio station. “We don’t want people thinking we’ve forgotten them. … We know what your conditions are. We know if you’re stuck in an attic.”

Practically parking over a portion of the Bahamas for a day and a half, Dorian pounded the northern islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama with winds up to 185 mph and torrential rain before finally moving into open waters Tuesday on a course for Florida. Its winds were down to a still-dangerous 110 mph.

Over 2 million people along the coast in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina were warned to evacuate. While the threat of a direct hit on Florida had all but evaporated, Dorian was expected to pass dangerously close to Georgia and South Carolina — and perhaps strike North Carolina — on Thursday or Friday.

“Don’t tough it out. Get out,” said U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency official Carlos Castillo.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.