Hurricane Dorian has slammed into the Bahamian islands of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama and is forecast to move dangerously close to Florida in the next two days, US forecasters say.
The life-threatening storm grew in intensity to the highest-level category five as it smashed the archipelago, levelling houses and flooding towns.
The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) says Dorian made landfall on Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands on Sunday (local time) with catastrophic howling winds of 295km/h and gusts of more than 354km/h.
At 8pm US Eastern Time on Sunday, the hurricane was about 240 km from the Florida coast, parts of which were evacuating.
Further north, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered mandatory evacuations for parts of eight coastal counties.
The first images coming through on social media show houses torn apart, roofs ripped off, coastlines inundated and buildings flooded, with residents begging for help.
Video: Catastrophic damage reported on the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas due to Hurricane Dorian. pic.twitter.com/5osK1OPjGd
— PM Breaking News (@PMBreakingNews) September 1, 2019
Videos also reveal the horror of the frightening winds battering trees and buildings and sending dangerous debris flying.
Dorian is expected to pound the islands with up to two days of torrential rain, high waves and damaging winds, crawling north at walking pace towards the USA’s east coast, potentially making landfall in Florida on Tuesday.
Even a glancing blow from one of the strongest storms ever to menace Florida could bring torrential rains and damaging winds, the NHC said.
“On this track, the core of extremely dangerous Hurricane Dorian will continue to pound Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands tonight and Monday,” the NHC said.
“The hurricane will move dangerously close to the Florida east coast late Monday through Tuesday night.”
— MVP (@mvp242) September 1, 2019
Wooden homes have barely stood a chance against the devastating power of Dorian as residents described it as the worst storm they had ever experienced.
Abaco Bahamas 📍💔
Lord we NEED you. 🙏🏽😩 pic.twitter.com/bfEwn6BrT0
— day (@LoveDeje) September 1, 2019
President Donald Trump has tweeted warnings to the US states of Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama to brace for “one of the biggest hurricanes ever”.
He warned those areas “could be hit (much) harder than anticipated”.
Pray for the people in the Bahamas. Being hit like never before, Category 5. Almost 200 MPH winds.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2019
Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in some Florida counties including Brevard, Palm Beach and Martin for residents in mobile homes, on barrier islands and in low-lying areas.
Other coastal counties have announced voluntary evacuations while some road tolls have been suspended in Florida to enable people to freely get out of harm’s way.
Even a glancing blow from one of the strongest storms ever to menace Florida could bring torrential rains and damaging winds, and a Florida landfall is still a distinct possibility, the NHC warned.
The National Hurricane Centre issued a number of warnings urging people in Dorian’s path to take steps to protect their lives, describing the intense situation in the Bahamas as “life-threatening” and warning of “catastrophic conditions”.
The Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis urged the 73,000 people in immediate danger in his country to head to the main island to escape the storm.
Evacuations were ordered for parts of Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands and all tourists were asked to leave the islands, however there were reports of people defying the warnings and remaining on the islands.
The pummelling was expected to last for hours as the hurricane may slow to just 1.5km/h, prolonging its catastrophic effects, the NHC said.
US President Donald Trump warned on Sunday that the storm would likely impact the eastern seaboard from Florida to North Carolina.
“This looks monstrous,” Mr Trump said during a briefing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“This looks like it could be larger than all of them.”
WATCH: Video shows massive damage to a home in the Grand #Abacos Island, #Bahamas, during Hurricane #Dorian with pieces of the roof spread across the floor with other types of damage. (📹: Latrae Rahming – @p0sitivechange)pic.twitter.com/OFQyIkyHmp
— DMM News (@DMM_News_) September 1, 2019
FEMA is moving food, water and generators into the southeast US, acting Administrator Peter Gaynor said.
“When it comes to response, we are more than ready to deal with anything that Dorian delivers us this year, or any other storm that may come this season,” he told CNN.
Dorian is forecast to remain a hurricane for the next five days, the NHC said. Dorian made landfall on Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands with maximum sustained winds of 295km/h and gusts of more than 354km/h.
Dorian was the strongest hurricane on record to hit the northwestern Bahamas as a life-threatening Category 5 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale.
Dorian was tied with Gilbert (1988), Wilma (2005) and the 1935 Labor Day hurricane for the second strongest Atlantic hurricane on record based on maximum sustained winds. Allen in 1980 was the most powerful, with 306km/h winds, the NHC said.
Several gasoline stations around Titusville were closed. Many grocery stores were open but boarded up. Inside, shelves emptied out fast.
Like many officials in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis warned residents against becoming complacent after forecasts began saying on Saturday that the state might escape a direct hit.
“This storm at this magnitude could really cause massive destruction. Do not put your life in jeopardy by staying behind when you have a chance to get out,” DeSantis said, urging people to heed evacuation orders from county officials.
Dozens of Floridians who live in boats in marinas in Brevard County were rushing to secure their vessels, strapping them to docks and removing canvas coverings from decks, but some boat residents said they wanted to ride out Dorian.
Residents on Abaco posted video on social media showing floodwaters halfway up the sides of single-family homes with parts of the roofs torn off. Car alarms blared across the island, which was littered with twisted metal and splintered wood.
Forecasters predicted up to 76 cm of rain. The storm was moving at just 7km/h on Sunday night, prolonging a pummelling expected to last for hours, the NHC said.
Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said in a nationally televised news conference that a “deadly storm and a monster storm” was battering the islands.
Homes there are built to withstand winds of at least 240km/h, but the expected storm surge is higher than the average roof.
“This will put us to a test that we’ve never confronted before,” Minnis said. “This is probably the most sad and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people.”
Also on Sunday, a new tropical storm formed southwest of Mexico and is expected to become a hurricane on Monday, the NHC said.
Tropical Storm Juliette was 735km from Manzanillo, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 95km/h, the NHC said.
Meanwhile, a new tropical storm has formed southwest of Mexico and is expected to become a hurricane on Monday.
Tropical Storm Juliette is 735km from Manzanillo, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 75km/h, the NHC said on Sunday.