At least five people have died in the Bahamas as Hurricane Dorian hits the islands hard, and authorities urge residents to find floatation devices and grab hammers to break out of their attics if necessary.
The fearsome storm has unleashed massive flooding across the Bahamas, pummelling the islands with wind and water, as it slowly inches towards Florida.
“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy,” Bahaman Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said, calling the devastation “unprecedented and extensive”.
The Bahamas Press reported on Twitter that a boy had drowned in the northern Bahamas, the first recorded fatality of Dorian, and four others are dead.
As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas might have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.
Actual details coming out of the islands remain sketchy because Dorian has brought down communication lines.
Hurricane Dorian Update: Video of the Aftermath of hurricane #Dorian on Abaco Island in the #Bahamas. 5 people are confirmed dead but the death toll sadly is expected to rise. Meanwhile the hurricane is stationary around Grand Bahama with winds of 130 MPH pic.twitter.com/myD3ngmMqB
— Shark NewsWires (@SharkNewsWires) September 3, 2019
Now a category three storm, it slowed almost to a standstill off the Bahamas as it shredded roofs, hurled cars and forced even rescue crews to take shelter until the onslaught passed.
Officials said they received a “tremendous” number of calls from people in flooded homes, while the Red Cross said it faces a huge operation to get supplies to people who need them.
A radio station received more than 2000 distress messages, including reports of a five-month-old baby stranded on a roof and a grandmother with six grandchildren who cut a hole in a roof to escape rising floodwaters. Other reports involved a group of eight children and five adults stranded on a highway and two storm shelters that flooded.
BREAKING: Dorian weakens to a Category 3 hurricane but continues to batter the Bahamas as it remains almost at a standstill.
— The Associated Press (@AP) September 3, 2019
Forecasters warned that Dorian could generate a storm surge as high as seven metres.
Police Chief Samuel Butler urged people to remain calm and share their GPS coordinates, but he said rescue crews had to wait until weather conditions improved.
“We simply cannot get to you,” he told Bahamas radio station ZNS.
On nearby Abaco Island, Parliament member Darren Henfield said he received reports of deaths but officials had not been able to confirm them.
Meanwhile in the US, the National Hurricane Centre extended watches and warnings across the Florida and Georgia coasts. Forecasters expected Dorian to stay off shore, but meteorologist Daniel Brown cautioned that “only a small deviation” could draw the storm’s dangerous core toward land.
Late on Monday (local time), Dorian’s centre was about 48 kilometres north-east of Freeport, on Grand Bahama Island. It had moved only about eight kilometres in three hours.
The storm’s top sustained winds had fallen slightly 230km/h – down from 250km/h earlier in the day, as it crawled along the island at 2km/h before coming to a standstill.
On land, the water reached roofs and the tops of palm trees. One woman filmed water lapping at the stairs of her home’s second floor.
Most people went to shelters as the storm neared. Tourist hotels closed, and residents boarded up homes. Many people were expected to be left homeless.
— Josh Moody (@MudiMumu) September 3, 2019
The Miami-based National Hurricane Centre said Dorian was expected to move “dangerously close” to the Florida east coast late on Monday through to Wednesday night, and then move north to coastal Georgia and South Carolina on Wednesday night and Thursday.
American Airlines said it had cancelled 375 flights through to Wednesday because of Hurricane Dorian.
The airline said flights were cancelled because operations have been suspended at seven airports it flies to in Florida and the Bahamas. It said there could be additional issues and delays to come at other US East Coast airports.
Florida’s busiest airport, Orlando International Airport, will close at 2am (4pm Tuesday).
The airport had intended to close a day earlier, but managers changed their minds as Dorian slowed down and its projected path shifted more north.
— david paul (@DavidPaulKHOU) September 3, 2019
Palm Beach International Airport is closed and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is scheduled to close soon.
Miami International Airport remained open but travellers have been warned that it was expecting higher than normal traffic and they should arrive early for flights.
President Donald Trump approved emergency declarations for the states of Georgia and South Carolina because of Dorian.
The declarations authorise the Federal Emergency Management Agency to co-ordinate disaster relief efforts.
Mr Trump urged everyone in Dorian’s path to obey warnings and evacuation orders, saying public safety “must always come first”.
He approved an emergency declaration for Florida on Friday.