Hurricane Dorian battered the islands of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama, killing at least five people, peeling off roofs, toppling cars and snapping power lines as rising floodwater threatened to engulf houses.
Monster storm Dorian stalled over the Bahamas Monday as surging seawaters and ferocious winds sowed chaos in low-lying island communities, claiming at least five lives and spurring mass evacuations on the US east coast.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis termed the hurricane a "historic tragedy" for the archipelago.
"Thus far, the Royal Bahamas Police Force has confirmed that there are five deaths in Abaco," Minnis told a news conference, referring to the islands where Dorian made landfall as a Category 5 storm on Sunday, packing blistering winds of 290 kilometers per hour.
"Teams will go to Abaco as soon as possible for a full and proper assessment and identification," he said.
As Dorian ground to a standstill, pounding Grand Bahama further to the west of the island chain, the Bahamas tourism and aviation ministry announced the start of rescue operations "in parts where it is safe."
For many, the wait for help to arrive has been terrifying.
A text message seen by AFP from a woman named Kendra Williams, who lives on Grand Bahama said: "We are underwater; we are up in the ceiling. Can someone please assist us or send some help. Please. Me and my six grandchildren and my son, we are in the ceiling."
Hurricane Dorian has caused "extensive damage" across the Bahamas, the Red Cross said on Monday, warning that as many as 13,000 houses may have been severely damaged or destroyed.
"We don't yet have a complete picture of what has happened," Sune Bulow, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' Emergency Operation Centre in Geneva, said in a statement.
"But it is clear that Hurricane Dorian has had a catastrophic impact," he said, adding that "we anticipate extensive shelter needs, alongside the need for short-term economic support, as well as for clean water and health assistance."
The storm's top sustained winds decreased slightly to 270 kph as its westward movement slowed, crawling along Grand Bahama island Monday morning at 2 kph in what forecasters said would be a daylong assault. Earlier, Dorian churned over Abaco island with battering winds and surf during Sunday.
Information began emerging from the affected islands, with Bahamas Power and Light saying there is a total blackout in New Providence, the archipelago's most populous island.
"The reports out of Abaco (island) as everyone knows," company spokesman Quincy Parker told ZNS Bahamas radio station, "were not good."
Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas with ferocious wind and rain on Sunday, the monstrous Category 5 storm wrecking towns and homes as it churned on an uncertain path toward the US coast where hundreds of thousands were ordered to evacuate.
There was no immediate word on casualties in the low-lying islands.
But IFRC warned that extensive flooding on the island of Abaco was believed to have contaminated wells with saltwater.
The organisation said it had released $252,000 from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to bolster the initial response to the crisis, and to provide some 500 families with emergency shelter assistance.
TRT World speaks to South Carolina-based journalist Jay Gray.
Some 19 million could be impacted
Earlier on Sunday, packing sustained winds of 295 kilometres per hour (185 miles per hour), Dorian crashed onshore in the Abaco Islands as the strongest storm ever to hit the Caribbean chain.
After days of nerve-wracking uncertainty surrounding the storm's path, the southeastern US states of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina finally ordered coastal residents to evacuate in a mass exodus set to affect hundreds of thousands of people.
The American Red Cross estimated that some 19 million people live in areas that could be impacted by the storm, with as many as 50,000 people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina potentially in need of emergency shelter, depending on the impact.
IFRC said that hundreds of Red Cross volunteers, emergency response vehicles and more than 30 truckloads of relief supplies were being mobilised to help people living in the path of the hurricane.
Palm Beach County, the third most-populated county and home to President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, was among those with partial mandatory evacuations. Other counties announced voluntary evacuations.
"This looks like it could be larger than all of them," Trump said during a briefing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Farther north, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered mandatory evacuations for parts of eight coastal counties effective at 1600 GMT on Monday.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp ordered evacuations in all or parts of six coastal counties also effective at noon on Monday.
Even a glancing blow from one of the strongest storms ever to menace Florida could bring torrential rains and damaging winds, the NHC said.
"The hurricane will move dangerously close to the Florida east coast late Monday through Tuesday night," the NHC said.
Here are the 5 AM Monday, September 2 Key Messages for Hurricane #Dorian. Life-threatening storm surge and hurricane-force winds are expected along portions of the Florida east coast through mid-week. Visit https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB for more info. pic.twitter.com/Ft5D7w6hB8— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 2, 2019
Dorian is 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.
It 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 306 kph winds, the NHC said.
Julia Eaddy, 70, in Titusville, Florida, said she and her husband had ridden out several hurricanes before and were not fazed by the forecast. "I think it will be more of the same," she said.
Several gasoline stations around Titusville were closed. Many grocery stores were open but boarded up. Inside, shelves emptied out fast.
Dorian is expected to remain a hurricane for the next five days and move northwest along or near the US east coast, forecasters said.