BAHAMAS — Hurricane Dorian, the strongest storm ever to hit the Bahamas, has killed at least five people in the Abaco Islands, Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Monday.
“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy in parts of our northern Bahamas,” Minnis said at a news conference.
He did not provide more detail about the people killed in the storm. A woman in the Abaco Islands earlier told a local news outlet that her 8-year-old grandson drowned in the rising waters.
Dorian made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane on Grand Bahama Island on Sunday night, pulverizing houses and leaving countless residents homeless.
Now a Category 4, Dorian is still crawling over the islands. Forecasters expect it will move “dangerously close” to Florida later tonight, and millions of Americans are under mandatory evacuation orders.
The storm wiped out power to Nassau and the rest of New Providence, the country’s most populous island, Bahamas Power and Light said. “There’s damages everywhere around my area,” Marsh Habour resident Vernal Cooper said. “Cars and houses destroyed. This is what’s left of Marsh Harbour.”
“The initial reports from Abaco is that the devastation is unprecedented and extensive” Minnis said. “Many homes, businesses and other buildings have been completely or partially destroyed.”
Dorian was still an “extremely dangerous” storm with sustained winds of 145 mph on Monday, the National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory.
And it is moving across the Bahamas at only 1 mph — slower than walking pace. That means it will pound the same decimated places over and over again.
“You can’t even wrap your head around the devastation that’s going to be coming out of the Bahamas in the coming days,” CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray said.
Storm expected to get “dangerously close” to Florida tonight
Dorian will keep lashing Grand Bahama Island though Monday night, forecasters said. Moving this slowly, it could dump a total of 24 to 30 inches of rain on northwestern parts of the Bahamas.
“It’s just an absolutely devastating, life-threatening situation,” said Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Then it’s expected to draw nearer to the southeastern US coast.
“The hurricane will then move dangerously close to the Florida east coast late tonight through Wednesday evening and then move dangerously 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
In the Abaco Islands, “the devastation is unprecedented,” Minnis said.
“We have reports of casualties. We have reports of bodies being seen. We cannot confirm those reports until we go out and see for ourselves,” Bahamian Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield said.
Part of the reason it’s so difficult to grasp the number of casualties is because conditions are still dire. “It’s not safe to go outdoors,” Henfield said. “Power lines are down. Lamp posts are down. Trees are across the street. It is very dangerous to be outdoors.”
Ingrid McIntosh told Eyewitness News she believes her 8-year-old grandson drowned in the rising waters. Her 31-year-old daughter found the boy’s body, she told the local news outlet. She says her granddaughter is also missing.
“I just saw my grandson about two days ago,” McIntosh told Eyewitness News. “He told me he loved me. He was going back to Abaco, he turned around and said, ‘Grandma, I love you.'”
‘My house sounds like the ocean’
John Forbes, a resident of Grand Bahama, recorded video of the waters rising in his home. “Tragic flooding, we are stranded!” he wrote on Twitter. He later wrote that he was about to evacuate.
Vickareio Adderely’s home in Marsh Harbour is filled with water. One of the rooms is now “gone,” and a hole in the roof keeps getting bigger.
“My house sounds like the ocean,” Adderely said. “There are three houses adjacent to mine that also lost their roof.”
Kevin Tomlinson planned to ride out the storm in his home. But as Dorian’s strength became clear, he fled to an evacuation center in Freeport.
Tomlinson has no idea what will be left of his neighborhood when he goes home. “We haven’t really gotten the full brunt of it yet,” he said. “One thing I dread is the aftermath of this entire thing.”
How Dorian could pummel the US
After Dorian leaves the Bahamas, it threatens to turn its destructive force on the US Southeast. But it’s still unclear if or where the storm will make landfall.
Landfall happens when the center of the hurricane reaches land. Forecast models now show Dorian skirting along Florida’s coast Tuesday and then next to Georgia late Tuesday and Wednesday.
But just because the center of the storm might not hit land doesn’t mean it won’t be destructive. Hurricane-force winds topping 74 mph extend 45 miles out from the storm’s center.
The hurricane center said “life-threatening storm surges and dangerous hurricane-force winds are expected along portions of the Florida east coast through mid-week.”
The governors of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina ordered mandatory evacuations for some coastal residents.
At least 13 Florida counties were under evacuation orders Monday,
For those not under mandatory evacuations, the agency urged residents to “plan for adequate supplies in case you lose power & water for several days.”
More than 900 flights have been canceled going in and out of Florida airports, according to data from Flightaware.com.
The Orlando Melbourne International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport suspended commercial flights and closed terminals at noon Monday.
Even places as far north as North Carolina are potential targets for a US landfall, forecasters said.
In Wilmington, North Carolina, Christina Dowe said she bought a new home in November after her home was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Florence.
“We’ve just been trying to get perishables, getting water, getting flashlights. Just trying to get the necessities, things that we need, so we can be better prepared than we were last year,” she said
Dowe said she’s just hoping “everything works out better than it did last year.”