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Hurricane Dorian became a potentially devastating Category 4 storm Friday evening as it continued to churn in the Atlantic Ocean on its course to the southeastern United States early next week, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm grew to a Category 4 hurricane Friday evening, and as of early Saturday it had maximum sustained winds of 140 mph, the hurricane center said.
The hurricane posed a "significant threat" to the northwestern Bahamas and Florida, the center said. "Some strengthening is possible today," it added.
Dorian was expected to move over the Atlantic "well north of the southeastern and central Bahamas" Saturday, and to be near or over the northwestern Bahamas on Sunday. The hurricane is forecast to be near Florida's east coast late Monday, the hurricane center said.
President Donald Trump said he would discuss possible evacuations Sunday in a scheduled meeting with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials.
"We were thinking about Florida evacuations, but it’s a little bit too soon," Trump said. "We’ll probably have to make that determination on Sunday."
Trump told reporters Friday as he prepared to board Marine One to a weekend trip to Camp David that he feared for the entire state of Florida, and Georgia was possibly "in this path also."
He said his own Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, was a "dead center" target of Dorian. "Look," he said, "Mar-a-Lago can handle itself. It’s a very powerful place."
Trump tried to reassure the nation that federal officials were prepared for the worst. "We have FEMA, we have first responders, we have tremendous law enforcement," he said.
- Dorian became a Category 4 hurricane Friday evening, the National Hurricane Center said.
- A hurricane warning is in effect for the northwestern Bahamas and a hurricane watch was in effect for Andros Island
- Life-threatening storm surge and damaging tropical storm force and hurricane-force winds are likely over portions of the northwestern Bahamas and Florida coast.
- The storm could bring 10 to 15 inches of rain to the northwestern Bahamas, with up to 20 inches in some places
- As Dorian approaches the Florida coast on Monday it is expected to slow down and increase in size.
"Dorian is anticipated to remain an extremely dangerous major hurricane while it moves near the northwestern Bahamas and approaches the Florida peninsula into early next week," the center said.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news on Hurricane Dorian.
The storm has the potential to become an extremely dangerous Category 4 over the next several days and was forecast to reach top winds of up to 140 mph in the next 72 hours.
Dorian could be the first Category 4 or higher hurricane to make landfall on Florida's east coast since 1992, when Hurricane Andrew was blamed for 44 deaths in the state. Anything at Category 3 or above is considered a major hurricane.
The center said life-threatening storm surge would raise water levels as much as 10 to 15 feet above normal tide in parts of the northwestern Bahamas, with "large and destructive waves" near the coast.
The storm was expected to produce 10 to 15 inches of rain, with isolated areas receiving as 20 inches in the northwestern Bahamas. Coastal sections of the southeastern United States were forecast to get 6 to 12 inches of rain, with isolated area getting up to 18 inches.
"This rainfall may cause life-threatening flash floods," the center said.
Hurricane conditions were possible in the Bahamas by Sunday, the center said.
"It's going to be this big, bad, intense storm — wherever it hits, it's going to do catastrophic wind damage," said Bill Karins, a meteorologist for NBC News.
There is an increasing likelihood of a prolonged period of hazardous weather conditions that could last for a couple of days in parts of Florida early next week,” the center said.
Life-threatening storm surge and “devastating hurricane-force winds” along portions of Florida’s east coast were likely by early next week, but it was too soon to determine where the hardest hit areas would be, the center said.
The storm was forecast to slow down near or over the Florida peninsula, leading to more days of wind, rain and storm surge, the center said.
"A prolonged period of storm surge, high winds and rainfall is likely in portions of Florida into next week, including the possibility of hurricane-force winds over inland portions of the Florida peninsula," the center said.
It is too soon to tell exactly when the storm would make its U.S. landfall, but the hurricane center warned of an increasing likelihood of "life-threatening storm surge along portions of the Florida east coast late this weekend or early next week." Six to 12 inches of rain is also expected in the U.S., with some areas getting up to 15 inches. The rainfall may cause flash floods.
On Friday morning, Trump approved an emergency declaration request for Florida that the state's Gov. Ron DeSantis had expanded across the entire state on Thursday.
DeSantis said during a news conference Friday that Florida will implement highway patrol escorts for trucks to refuel gas stations that have sold out of fuel and that state agencies will be spot checking nursing homes before and after the storm.
"This is a major event. We still have some degree of uncertainty, but I think if you look at the different forecasts, you see potential major impacts from places in South Florida potentially going all the way up the coast of Florida," he said.
He also previously said that about 2,500 members of Florida's National Guard had been activated, with another 1,500 on standby.
Meanwhile, shopping center parking lots were filled with Florida residents on Thursday, stocking up on supplies ahead of the storm.
Earlier, Trump called off his planned trip to Poland over the weekend to oversee the response to Dorian. On Friday he said he would return from Camp David Sunday to meet with FEMA officials.
In a video posted from the White House on Thursday night, Trump said: "We're ready. We have the best people in the world ready, and they're going to help you."
Trump said that "somebody said" that Dorian would be "bigger or at least as big as Andrew," which caused more than $25 billion in damage in 1992.
Andrew was assessed as Category 5, with sustained winds of 175 mph.
Dorian swept by the Virgin Islands and Puerto Ricoas a Category 1 hurricane on Wednesday with few casualties and little confirmed damage.