TITUSVILLE, Florida (AFP, REUTERS) - Hurricane Dorian is confirmed to have killed at least five people in the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said on Monday (Sept 2) as the storm stalled over the island chain, unleashing catastrophic wind and rain.
Addressing a news conference at the National Emergency Management Agency in New Providence, Minnis described the storm as an “historic tragedy” for the archipelago.
The Abaco islands on Sunday received the full brunt of Dorian, which was continuing Monday to batter Grand Bahama further to the west.
Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas on Monday, peeling off roofs and snapping power lines as rising flood waters threatened to engulf houses, and was expected to edge closer to the US coast, where more than a million people were ordered evacuated.
The second-strongest Atlantic storm on record, now packing maximum sustained winds of 270kmh, was forecast to pound Grand Bahama Island through the day before veering north-west in the next day or so.
The hurricane will move dangerously close to Florida's east coast on Monday night through Wednesday evening, the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said in its latest advisory.
There were no immediate estimates of casualties as Dorian, a life-threatening Category 5 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, covered the north-western islands of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama with twisted metal and splintered wood. The Bahamas Press reported on Twitter that a 7-year-old boy had drowned in the northern Bahamas, becoming the first recorded fatality of Dorian.
Winds gusting up to 320kmh destroyed or damaged more than 13,000 homes, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.
Residents posted images online of water rising up the side of their houses. The NHC warned of a possible storm surge that could push destructive waves higher than many roofs in the islands.
As of 8am EDT (8pm Singapore), Dorian was stalled over the Grand Bahama Island barely drifting westward at 1.6kmh, according to the NHC, which said a prolonged period of "catastrophic winds and storm surge" would affect the island today.
It was about 190km from the Florida coast, where residents said they were already experiencing strong winds and high surf.
Palm Beach County, the state's 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) on Sunday.
Julia Eaddy, 70, in Titusville, about halfway up Florida's east coast, 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.
Farther north, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered mandatory evacuations for parts of eight coastal counties effective at noon on Monday. More than 830,000 people were under evacuation orders in Charleston and other coastal communities in South Carolina, emergency management officials announced.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp ordered evacuations in six coastal counties, including all of Savannah's 150,000 residents, also effective at noon on Monday, Kemp's office said on Twitter.
Evacuations ordered in Florida included 14,000 people in St. Augustine. The authorities said they would release more details during the day as the hurricane's path became clearer.
Dorian was tied with Gilbert (1988), Wilma (2005) and the 1935 Labour Day hurricane for the second-strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, based on maximum sustained winds. Allen in 1980 was the most powerful, with 306kmh winds, the NHC said.
Although Dorian is expected to weaken gradually, forecasters said it likely would remain a powerful hurricane for the next couple of days.