(CNN) -- Hurricane Dorian is set to pummel the northern Bahamas this weekend with potentially catastrophic wind and storm surge, hovering over the region for at least a day.
The National Hurricane Center issued tropical storm watches Saturday for parts of coastal Florida as the Category 4 hurricane headed toward the United States, threatening the coastal Southeast, from Florida to North Carolina, next week.
With sustained winds of up to 150 mph, Dorian is expected to deliver its full wrath late Sunday and early Monday near the Abacos Islands and Grand Bahama, areas where some 73,000 people live. The storm was moving west toward the northern Bahamas at 8 mph Saturday evening.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis called for residents of those places to leave for shelters in the central Bahamas.
"If you wait until tonight, it will be too late," Minnis said Saturday. "Time is not on our side."
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Models show the hurricane staying in the Bahamas for 24 hours or longer, lowering the storm's intensity before its makes a right turn and heads north, CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers said. He said it's "almost like using your blinker for 24 hours and than finally making the turn."
The tropical storm watches for the east coast of Florida stretch from Deerfield Beach to Sebastian Inlet, the NHC said in an 8 p.m. advisory. The next advisory is expected at 11 p.m.
Dorian's forecast track has become murky for the United States. While landfall is possible along the East Coast from Florida to the Carolinas, many models project it staying just off Florida's coast Tuesday, then skirting the coasts of Georgia and North and South Carolina, with any landfall as yet uncertain.
Still, a major hurricane hovering just off a US coast could cause life-threatening damage.
"Understand: Even if it doesn't directly strike Florida ... you're looking at major flooding events," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters Saturday in Tallahassee.
• Around 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Dorian was 155 miles east of Great Abaco, Bahamas, and 335 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida.
• The northwestern Bahamas -- including the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama -- will start feeling tropical-storm-force winds (39 mph and higher) Saturday night or Sunday morning. A hurricane warning is also in effect for the northwestern Bahamas, except for Andros Island.
• Life-threatening storm surges of 10 to 15 feet could crash Sunday into the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, the National Hurricane Center said.
• The northwestern Bahamas also could get 10 to 25 inches of rain, the hurricane center said.
• Dorian is expected to move across the Bahamas slowly, creating life-threatening conditions as "rain, winds and storm surge (keep) piling up," hurricane center Director Ken Graham said Saturday.
• Dorian's forecast track has shifted east since Friday, meaning a landfall in Florida less likely, but not out of the question.
• Fluctuations in the storm's intensity are likely but Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane over the next few days, the NHC said.
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US Southeast coast expected to get walloped, with or without landfall
For the United States, there's a lot of uncertainty in the forecast, with the storm days away from the coast.
Current models anticipate the storm approaching Florida's coast -- but possibly staying offshore -- Monday morning into Wednesday morning. Tropical-storm-force winds could arrive in southeastern Florida by Sunday evening, the National Hurricane Center said.
If it stays far enough offshore, Dorian could spare Florida its most destructive winds, but drop plenty of rain.
"If we only get waves and a little bit of wind with this, we still will get tremendous flooding, but we're not going to get the wind damage ... of 150 mph winds like we saw" with Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Myers said.
Pete Werner said he is riding out the storm at home in Orlando but is sending his mother to Walt Disney World. He said it's the "safest place" to be in hurricane in Central Florida.
"Their hotels are built to exceed Florida building codes so they're built to withstand a category 5 hurricane," he said. "It's a self contained city."
Werner said he didn't want his 88-year-old mother to be sitting in the heat if she loses power.
"I'd rather her ride it out in luxury over at the BoardWalk," he said.
Dorian's center could move along the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas on Wednesday and Thursday, hitting areas with storm surges and heavy rain.
Officials have warned for days about the hurricane's potential impact in Florida, and residents have responded by stocking up on supplies and making evacuation plans. States of emergency have been declared in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
Falisha Carter was prepared for the storm but said she was relieved it doesn't appear Dorian's eye will make landfall on Florida's east coast.
"I am happy that that the storm is curving," Carter told CNN in Vero Beach.
Carter had bought hot sauce to make a buffalo chicken dip out of the canned chicken she purchased during her hurricane preparation.
She smiled thinking about how good the chicken would be now without a hurricane.
President Donald Trump said he will attend a Sunday briefing at FEMA headquarters, where they will likely make decisions about whether to evacuate parts of Florida.
Dorian looks like it "can be an absolute monster," the President said.
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