Riviera Beach, United States, Sept 2 (AFP/APP):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 the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) called the storm’s impact “catastrophic”.
Packing sustained winds of 165 miles per hour (270 kph) with a towering 18 to 23 foot (5 to 7 metre) storm surge, Dorian crashed over the Abacos Islands, in the northwest Bahamas, as the strongest storm ever to hit the Caribbean chain.
It was tied for the second most powerful hurricane ever in the Atlantic basin, the US National Weather Service said — with footage on social media showing major destruction from howling gusts of wind and pounding seawater.
Video posted on the website of the Bahamian newspaper Tribune 242 showed 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.
After days of nerve-wracking uncertainty surrounding the storm’s path, the southeastern US states of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina finally ordered hundreds of thousands of coastal residents to evacuate.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the storm will be “dangerously close” to the Florida coast Monday night through Tuesday.
On Sunday night, the eastern part of Grand Bahama was experiencing the eye wall of the storm. The NHC said the situation on that island was life-threatening and would only worsen overnight.
“Do not venture out into the eye, as winds will suddenly increase after the eye passes,” the NHC warned in its 0500 GMT update.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis broke down in tears at a news conference, calling it “probably the most sad and worst day of my life,” the Nassau Guardian reported.
“We’re facing a hurricane… one that we’ve never seen in the history of the Bahamas,” he said.
As of 0600 GMT, the storm was 35 miles (50 kilometers) east of Freeport on Grand Bahama and moving slowly west, according to the NHC.
“It feels like we are standing in a line waiting for a beating,” Yasmin Rigby, a resident of Freeport, the island’s main city, told AFP.
Initial rapid emergency assessments, carried out by the IFRC and local authorities, said as many as 13,000 buildings may have been damaged or destroyed by Dorian.
Sune Bulow, head of the IFRC Emergency Operations Centre in Geneva, said: “We don’t yet have a complete picture of what has happened. But it is clear that Hurricane Dorian has had a catastrophic impact.”