Hurricane Dorian has caused "extensive damage" across the Bahamas, the Red Cross said Monday, warning that as many as 13,000 houses may have been severely damaged or destroyed.
"We don't yet have a complete picture of what has happened," Sune Bulow, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' Emergency Operation Centre in Geneva, said in a statement.
"But it is clear that Hurricane Dorian has had a catastrophic impact," he said, adding that "we anticipate extensive shelter needs, alongside the need for short-term economic support, as well as for clean water and health assistance."
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 IFRC said that up to 13,000 houses may have been severely impacted.
The organisation also warned that extensive flooding on the island of Abaco was believed to have contaminated wells with saltwater.
IFRC said it had released 250,000 Swiss francs ($252,000, 230,000 euros) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to bolster the initial response to the crisis, and to provide some 500 families with emergency shelter assistance.
Packing sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (295 kilometre per hour), Dorian crashed onshore in the Abacos Islands, in the northwest of the Bahamas, as the strongest storm ever to hit the Caribbean chain.
After days of nerve-wracking uncertainty surrounding the storm's path, the southeastern US states of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina finally ordered coastal residents to evacuate in a mass exodus set to affect hundreds of thousands of people.
The American Red Cross estimated that some 19 million people live in areas that could be impacted by the storm, with as many as 50,000 people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina potentially in need of emergency shelter, depending on the impact.
IFRC said that hundreds of Red Cross volunteers, emergency response vehicles and more than 30 truck loads of relief supplies were being mobilised to help people living in the path of the hurricane.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami says catastrophic storm-surge flooding is likely occurring on the Bahamas' northernmost island, Grand Bahama.
The 1 a.m. Monday update continued to characterize the situation created by the Category 5 Hurricane Dorian as "life-threatening."
The hurricane's westward movement has slightly slowed down to 5 mph (7 kph). The center of the storm remains around 45 miles (70 kilometers) east of Freeport on Grand Bahama and around 130 miles (210 kilometers) east of West Palm Beach, Florida.
Residents of the Abacos and Grand Bahama islands are still advised to remain in their shelters. Hazards of wind gusts at 200 mph (320 kph) and storm surge 18 to 23 feet (5.5 to 7 meters) above normal tide levels are forecast to "cause extreme destruction" and continue for several hours.
Georgia's governor orders mandatory evacuation of state's coast starting at midday Monday ahead of Dorian.
Destructive winds from Hurricane Dorian are spreading across the Bahamas' northernmost island.
The National Hurricane Center characterised the situation as "life-threatening" in a midnight Sunday statement. Residents of Grand Bahama, where the hurricane has made landfall, are encouraged not to leave their shelters when the eye of the hurricane passes over.
Residents of the Abacos, where Dorian first hit, are advised to remain in their shelters until conditions subside later Monday.
The statement warns of wind gusts at 200 mph (320 kph) and storm surge 18 to 23 feet (5.5 to 7 meters) above normal tide levels that "will cause extreme destruction."
The center of the storm is around 45 miles (70 kilometers) east of Freeport on Grand Bahama and around 130 miles (210 kilometers) east of West Palm Beach, Florida.
Officials expect many residents to be left homeless
In a slow, relentless advance, a catastrophic Hurricane Dorian keeps pounding at the northern Bahamas, as one of the strongest Atlantic storms ever recorded leaves wrecked homes, shredded roofs, tumbled cars and toppled power poles in its wake.
The storm's top sustained winds have decreased slightly to 180 mph (285 kph) while it spun along Grand Bahama island early Monday in what forecasters say will be a daylong assault. Earlier, Dorian churned over Abaco island with battering winds and surf during Sunday.
There is little information from the affected islands, though officials expect many residents to be left homeless. Most people went to shelters as the storm approached, with tourist hotels shutting down and residents boarded up their homes.
Hurricane Dorian unleashed “catastrophic conditions” Sunday as it slammed into the northern Bahamas, lashing the low-lying island chain with devastating 295kph winds, the most intense in its modern history.
The monster Category 5 storm made landfall at Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands at 8.45pm UAE time, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre, which reported winds gusting over 350kph.
“This is a life-threatening situation. Residents there should take immediate shelter,” it said, predicting a towering storm surge of 5.5 to 7 metres.
Local radio reported that people were calling for help after winds blew the roof off the Island Breezes Hotel in Marsh Harbor, a commercial hub in the Abacos.
“Things are really starting to rock and roll,” a post on the Facebook page of the Hope Town Bulletin in Abacos said at 10am local time. “Limbs cracking and popping now,” said another.
Many Abacos residents were reported to have opted to ride out the hurricane rather than heed government warnings to evacuate.
The Nassau Guardian quoted local resident Troy Albury as saying 150 people stayed behind in Guana Cay, in the center of the Abacos, to face the storm’s fury. Only eight left on the last ferry out, he said.
Power went out as the storm approached, a resident of Man-o-war Cay in the Abacos told AFP.
The NHC said Dorian had become “the strongest hurricane in modern records for the northwestern Bahamas.”
“Catastrophic hurricane conditions are occurring in the Abacos Islands,” the forecaster said in its 1800 GMT bulletin.
It said the storm was “heading with all its fury towards Grand Bahama” where it was expected Sunday night into Monday.
NHC director Ken Graham on Facebook Live said the Bahamas would be under major hurricane conditions for a punishing 30 hours or more.
“That’s major hurricane winds, that’s storm surge of 10 and even 20 feet in some of those areas,” he said. “That’s also torrential rainfall of 15 to 20 inches, isolated 30 inches.”
In Washington, US President Donald Trump met with his emergency management chiefs and declared “this looks monstrous.”
“We expect that much of the eastern seaboard will be ultimately impacted and some of it very, very severely,” he said.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect for parts of the Florida coast, and residents up and down the Atlantic coast braced for a brush with danger.
Florida issued its first evacuation orders in parts of Palm Beach, home of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, and Martin Counties.
In Grand Bahama, meanwhile, businesses were boarded up and thousands have evacuated Dorian’s predicted path.
“It feels like we are standing in a line waiting for a beating,” Yasmin Rigby, a resident of the island’s main city Freeport, told AFP.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis has warned residents “the price you may pay for not evacuating is your life or other serious physical harm.”
‘Very great danger’
Trump canceled a high-profile trip to Warsaw to focus on storm preparations.
“It’s just been building out there and moving very slowly,” he said at a meeting with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials. “It’s a bad thing, not a good thing. The slower it is, the bigger it is and the bigger it gets.
Kevin McAleenan, acting homeland security secretary, said hurricane force winds could hit Florida, followed by a prolonged rain event, combined with a storm surge.
“That’s going to be very difficult as the storm starts to move northward, mostly like, up the coast of Florida and toward Georgia and South Carolina,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
While Miami appeared likely to be largely spared, 30-year-old David Duque, picking up sandbags there on Saturday, noted “everything could change... I know it could be a scare, but better prepare instead of doing nothing.”
The Florida National Guard said roughly 2,000 service members had been mobilized, with another 2,000 poised to join them.
Trump has declared a federal state of emergency in Florida, authorizing US assistance to supplement state and local efforts.
Following a similar state order in Florida, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency Saturday, saying, “Given the strength and unpredictability of the storm, we must prepare for every possible scenario.”
Neighboring North Carolina also declared a state of emergency, and Georgia announced a state of emergency for 12 counties.
The US Coast Guard said large commercial vessels should plan to leave ports from south Florida to Savannah, Georgia, and advised pleasure craft to seek safe harbor.
Orlando International Airport was to protectively halt commercial flights at 2:00 am (0600 GMT) Monday, and Florida’s NASA Kennedy Space Centre said it was moving an enormous mobile rocket launcher inside to protect it.