Hurricane Dorian , back to a Category 3 storm, began raking the Southeast U.S. seaboard early Thursday and left tens of thousands without power as it threatened to inundate low-lying coasts from Georgia to Virginia with a life-threatening storm surge after its deadly mauling of the Bahamas.
Dorian squatted over the island nation as its strongest hurricane on record, leaving widespread devastation and at least 20 people dead. But it weakened substantially in the days since, dropping from a Category 5 to a Category 2 storm before increasing again late Wednesday. Dorian could maintain this intensity for several days before gradually weakening through Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
As of early Thursday more than 68,700 customers in Charleston County and over 15,200 in Beaufort County were without power, according to Dominion Energy. Berkeley Electric Cooperative reports another 12,600 lost electricity in Charleston County.
Duke Energy in a news release Wednesday said it expected the storm to cause 700,000 outages in the Carolinas and that it brought in resources from 23 states and Canada to respond "as soon as it was safe to do so."
More than 1,500 people sought refuge in 28 shelters in South Carolina, where sheets of rain began falling late Wednesday in the historic port city of Charleston, located on a peninsula prone to flooding. As Dorian crept dangerously closer, winds picked up sending rain sheets sideways, thunder boomed in the night sky and power flickered on and off in places.
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 5 a.m. EDT Thursday the distinct eye of the hurricane churned about 80 miles south of Charleston, moving north at 8 mph off the coast with dangerously high winds of 115 mph extending about 60 miles outward.
In Charleston's downtown, stores and restaurants were boarded up with wood and corrugated metal and about 830,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders on the South Carolina coast.
Hundreds of shelter animals from coastal South Carolina arrived in Delaware ahead of the storm. The News Journal of Wilmington reports nearly 200 animals were airlifted early Tuesday from shelters at risk of flooding. About 150 other animals were expected to arrive that night via land transport. WDBJ-TV reports more than 50 animals from North Carolina were shipped to Virginia and may be available for adoption as early as this weekend.
Hundreds of thousands also were ordered off the Georgia coast. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said "we are very worried, especially about the barrier islands getting cut off."
Dorian's approach left the cobblestone streets of Savannah, Georgia's downtown historic district largely deserted. But there were still places to find a hurricane party. More than 30 people gathered at Pinkie Master's Lounge on Wednesday evening, even as wind gusts bent tree tops in Savannah — nearly 20 miles inland.
In North Carolina, where authorities said an 85-year-old man died after falling from a ladder while preparing his home for Dorian, Gov. Roy Cooper warned of a coming storm surge and flash flooding from heavy rains. The Outer Banks barrier islands were particularly exposed.