Hurricane Dorian stalked across 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.
Monster storm Dorian hovered over the Bahamas Monday as surging seawaters and ferocious winds sowed chaos in low-lying island communities, killing at least five people 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."
US forecasters said the storm would keep hammering the Bahamas overnight into Tuesday.
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 under water; 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."
Abaco resident Ramond A. King captured scenes of devastation in footage provided to AFP, showing flooded streets strewn with trees and downed power lines and at least one home washed clearly away.
"Look at this," he can be heard saying. "We need help, everything down. Everything down. Look at my roof off, my house. I still got life. Thank God for life. I can rebuild."
"The tornado came from around this side... My neighbor used to live there. His house ain't even there."
Dorian weakened slightly Monday to a still-devastating Category 4 storm, punishing Grand Bahama with "life-threatening storm surge and catastrophic winds," the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest bulletin.
At 0100 GMT Tuesday, the hurricane was stationary, the NHC said, whipping the Caribbean island with torrential rains and winds of 140 miles per hour, with gusts up to 165.
It is forecast to resume moving westward overnight. "Although gradual weakening is forecast, Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane during the next couple of days," the NHC said.
Fear gripped residents of Freeport, as winds tore off shutters and water began coming into homes, said Yasmin Rigby, reached by text in the Grand Bahama island's main city.
"People who thought they were safe are now calling for help," Rigby said. "My best friend's husband is stuck in the roof of their house with 7 ft water below."
Initial Red Cross estimates were that 13,000 buildings may have been damaged or destroyed by Dorian, officials in Geneva said.
Bahamian newspaper Tribune 242 posted footage showing water up to the roofs of wooden houses in what appeared to be a coastal town. Capsized boats floated in muddy brown water dotted with wooden boards, tree branches and other debris.
In other social media footage of what appears to be an inland area, cars were smashed or turned over, telephone poles and trees were snapped like twigs and debris filled the yards of severely damaged homes. AFP could not immediately confirm the authenticity of any of this footage.
Local radio reported that people were calling for help after winds blew the roof off the Island Breezes Hotel in Marsh Harbour, a commercial hub in the Abacos.
"Things are really starting to rock and roll," a post on the Facebook page of the Hope Town Bulletin in Abacos said.
Many Abacos residents were reported to have opted to ride out the hurricane rather than heed government warnings to evacuate.
The Nassau Guardian quoted local resident Troy Albury as saying 150 people stayed behind in Guana Cay, in the centre of the Abacos, to face the storm's fury. Only eight left on the last ferry out, he said.
Power went out as the storm approached, a resident of Man-o-war Cay in the Abacos said.
The strongest storm to hit the Bahamas
The NHC said Dorian had become "the strongest hurricane in modern records for the northwestern Bahamas."
Describing "catastrophic" conditions in the Abacos Islands, it said the storm was "heading with all its fury towards Grand Bahama" where it was expected on Monday.
NHC Director Ken Graham said the Bahamas would be under major hurricane conditions for a punishing 30 hours or more.
"That's major hurricane winds, that's storm surge of 10 and even 20 feet in some of those areas," he said. "That's also torrential rainfall of 15 to 20 inches, isolated 30 inches."
In Washington, US President Donald Trump met with his emergency management chiefs and declared "this looks monstrous."
"We expect that much of the eastern seaboard will be ultimately impacted and some of it very, very severely," he said.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect for parts of the Florida coast, and residents up and down the Atlantic coast braced for a brush with danger.
Florida issued its first evacuation orders in parts of Palm Beach, home of Mr Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, and Martin Counties.
'Very great danger'
Mr Trump cancelled a high-profile trip to Warsaw to focus on storm preparations.
"It's just been building out there and moving very slowly," he said at a meeting with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials. "It's a bad thing, not a good thing. The slower it is, the bigger it is and the bigger it gets.
Kevin McAleenan, acting homeland security secretary, said hurricane-force winds could hit Florida, followed by a prolonged rain event, combined with a storm surge.
"That's going to be very difficult as the storm starts to move northward, mostly like, up the coast of Florida and toward Georgia and South Carolina," he said.
While Miami appeared likely to be largely spared, 30-year-old David Duque picked up sandbags and noted "everything could change ... I know it could be a scare, but better prepare instead of doing nothing."
The Florida National Guard said roughly 2,000 service members had been mobilised, with another 2,000 poised to join them.