Many people are feared dead, missing or left homeless after Hurricane Dorian packing peak winds of 185 mph started pounding the northern Bahamas from Sunday afternoon, local reports say.
While it was not clear how many people died in the storm and rain-triggered floods, the Bahamas media reported some bodies floating in its islands and cays. A seven year-old boy drowned and his sister went missing as their parents were taking them to safer ground.
Abaco Islands bore the brunt of Hurricane Dorian as it made landfall on Elbow Cay around 12.40pm.
Parts of Marsh Harbour came under water and one could not distinguish where the street ended and the ocean began. Murphy Town and Dundas Town were also badly hit.
Waves up to 20 feet above normal tide levels lashed Abacos and Grand Bahama Island as the Atlantic storm gathered speed. Grand Bahama International Airport was under water.
The ferocity of the storm may subside by Tuesday afternoon.
A rough picture of the scale of destruction will emerge only after the storm subsides and floods recede. Local media described the damage caused by the “monster storm” as “catastrophic.”
As the wind speed increased to 185 mph, gusts topped 200 mph and storm surge crossed 20 feet, The National Hurricane Center (NHC) called the situation “life-threatening” and advised people still living near the coast and in low-lying areas to avoid the eye of the storm and take immediate shelter.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis told residents in high-risk zones to leave their homes immediately.
Those unwilling to leave their homes should allow women, children and old people to leave in boats provided by the government and private agencies, he said.
Minnis appealed to people to ignore fake news related to the storm being spread on social media.
Many residents ignored the government’s evacuation order. On Guana Cay, about 150 locals stayed put saying they are quite safe in their homes located some 15 feet above the sea level. Eight people took shelter in the islet’s school.
Some 500 people, who refused to leave low-lying areas of Green Turtle Cay, are marooned in floods.
In Freeport city, nearly 350 people are staying in 14 shelters.
Guests staying in Abaco Beach Resorts evacuated with their belongings as the structure began to crumble in the storm.
Those staying in Island Breeze Hotel in Marsh Harbour called for help after the roof of the facility was badly damaged in the storm.
Public schools in north-western Bahamas will remain closed until further notice. Banks on the Abacos, Eleuthera and Grand Bahama will also remain closed until the situation improves.