Hurricane Dorian
© NOAA/RAMMB/Handout/AFP Photo
Florida governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Wednesday for counties in the path of destruction as Hurricane Dorian swept across the Caribbean towards the US east coast.

Puerto Rico was spared, but storm is expected to land in Florida Sunday night, potentially as a category 4 hurricane

Florida is bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Dorian with weather experts on Thursday proclaiming the state's entire east coast at risk.

A state of emergency has been declared and Donald Trump on Thursday canceled his forthcoming trip this weekend to Poland as the storm bears down. It was announced that the vice-president, Mike Pence, will travel to the eastern European nation in the president's stead.

Dorian could make landfall on Monday as a dangerous category 4 storm.

Puerto Rico's citizens breathed a sigh of relief earlier in the day at having avoided major damage from Hurricane Dorian, after it had been on a path this week to hit the US island territory directly.

The latest computer modeling of Dorian's path showed it arriving potentially as a category 3 hurricane or even as a powerful category 4 storm, on Florida's east coast early on Monday, the Labor Day holiday in the US.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami warned of dangerous storm surge and hurricane-force winds but said "it is too soon to determine where these hazards will occur".

Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, declared a state of emergency and urged residents to take precautionary measures including stockpiling water, canned food and other emergency supplies.

"Dorian could be a major hurricane," DeSantis tweeted. "All Floridians on the east coast should have seven days of supplies, prepare their homes and follow the track closely."

Georgia, another state potentially in the storm's path, also declared a state of emergency for 12 counties nearest the state's coastline.

Governor Brian Kemp said the storm "has the potential to produce catastrophic impacts to citizens" throughout the south-east coastal region of the United States.

One predicted track has the storm on course to hit Palm Beach county in southern Florida, the location of Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. According to the Tampa Bay Times the president's ocean-front property, often referred to as "the winter White House", lies within the so called "cone of uncertainty"- the potential range of paths the hurricane could take.

Shoppers in Florida stock up on supplies ahead of Hurricane Dorian
© Brynn Anderson/AP
Shoppers in Florida wait in long lines as they stock up on supplies ahead of Hurricane Dorian.
But a mix of weather factors currently affecting the region and the hurricane mean its exact path is highly unpredictable at this stage. Forecasters believe they will have a better idea of its size, speed and direction on Saturday when some atmospheric pressure systems have played out.

Across much of Florida's east coast, residents began flocking to the grocery stores and gas stations, stocking up in anticipation of the storm.

There were lines at many gas stations in south Florida as people began filling gas cans and topping off their gas tanks. Some residents using community Facebook groups gave updates on new shipments of water to restock the nearly empty shelves at local grocery stores.

Meanwhile the state's largest power company, Florida Power and Light, said it had activated an emergency response plan in anticipation of the storm's impact, securing around 13,000 employees and additional personnel to respond to damaged powerlines and equipment.

DeSantis said he had spoken on the phone with Trump, who pledged support.

"Hurricane Dorian looks like it will be hitting Florida late Sunday night," Trump tweeted on Thursday morning. (The timing of the arrival of the hurricane was not settled and anyone in its path was advised to track the storm.) "Be prepared and please follow State and Federal instructions, it will be a very big Hurricane, perhaps one of the biggest!"

The hurricane center advised that heavy rains from the storm were expected to occur over portions of the Bahamas, Florida, and elsewhere in the south-eastern US "later this week and into early next week".

With tens of thousands of Puerto Rican residents still living in temporary shelters after the devastation in 2017 from Hurricane Maria, which killed about 3,000 people and destroyed key infrastructure, the island had feared another devastating blow as Dorian bore down.

But a calm day dawned on Thursday. "We're happy because there are no damages to report," Culebra's mayor, William Solís, told the Associated Press.

Several hundred customers were without power across Puerto Rico, said Angel Figueroa, president of a power workers' union.

Police said an 80-year-old man in the northern town of Bayamon died Wednesday after he fell trying to climb up to his roof to clear it of debris ahead of the storm.

Tom McCarthy in New York and agencies