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Hurricane Dorian, the strongest storm ever to hit the Bahamas, has killed at least five people, destroyed houses and left countless residents homeless. The storm is lingering over the islands, continuing to pound the same devastated places.
Forecasters predict Dorian will move closer to Florida on Tuesday, and millions of Americans are under mandatory evacuation orders.
Dorian made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane on Grand Bahama Island on Sunday night. Now a Category 4, Dorian has been crawling over the islands, and was stationary as of 8 p.m., according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest advisory.
“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy in parts of our northern Bahamas,” Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said at a news conference in Nassau.
Minnis did not provide more details Monday about the five people killed in the Abaco Islands. A woman earlier told a local news outlet that her 8-year-old grandson drowned in the rising waters.
The storm was 25 miles northeast of Freeport, the main city on Grand Bahama, with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph Monday evening. It is expected to slowly drift westward to northwestward overnight, and is then forecast to turn toward the northwest late Tuesday.
The storm wiped out power to Nassau and the rest of New Providence, the country’s most populous island, Bahamas Power and Light said.
“A life changing storm”
“This is a life changing storm. … It feels like something out of a movie,” Chris Pannerman told CNN. “When we were trapped in a bathroom, the whole building was shaking. I was sitting against the wall and I can feel the pressure entering and pushing the wall on my back.”
Pannerman, his wife and 3-year-old daughter were stuck in their apartment in Marsh Harbour, a town on Abaco Island. The storm tore off a part of his roof and roofs of other homes and businesses.
He said he saw a people walking in waist-deep water and a house that had flipped over.
Pannerman said he lived through Hurricane Frances, which was a Category 3 storm, in 2004 and Jeanne in 2005.
“I have memories of those storms,” he said. “And this is definitely a new memory for me.”
Minnis said the initial reports from Abaco suggest “the devastation is unprecedented and extensive.”
“The images and videos we are seeing are heartbreaking,” Minnis said. “Many homes, businesses and other buildings have been completely or partially destroyed.”
Minnis said Coast Guard crews have rescued several injured residents in Abaco. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Eric Jones told CNN a Coast Guard helicopter dropped off a doctor and several medics at a Marsh Harbour clinic and evacuated 19 patients to Nassau.
But conditions prevented Coast Guard crews from getting to Grand Bahama Island on Monday, he said.
“It’s absolutely catastrophic conditions,” Jones said.
The Coast Guard said more than 20 cutters were on standby in Key West, Florida ready to respond to the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
“Bahamians across our country and throughout the world are praying for you,” Minnis told residents.
Storm expected to get “dangerously close” to Florida
Dorian will keep lashing Grand Bahama Island though Monday night, forecasters said. It could dump a total of 24 to 30 inches of rain on northwestern parts of the Bahamas.
Then it’s expected to draw nearer to the southeastern US coast.
The hurricane is forecast to move “dangerously close” to the Florida east coast overnight through Wednesday evening and then close to the Georgia and South Carolina coasts on Wednesday night and Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said.
“The very dangerous core of Dorian is expected to stay roughly 50 miles off the Florida coast, which will bring hurricane force winds, surge and heavy rain,” CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said.
An 8-year-old boy is reported dead
Bahamian officials said it’s difficult to assess the number of casualties in part because conditions are still dire. “It’s not safe to go outdoors,” Bahamian Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield said. “Power lines are down. Lamp posts are down. Trees are across the street. It is very dangerous to be outdoors.”