At least five people have been killed in the Bahamas as Hurricane Dorian batters the region.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis confirmed the deaths on Monday, adding that there are also people in nearby Grand Bahama island who are in serious distress.
He said rescue crews will respond to calls for help as soon as weather conditions allow.
“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy,” he said, calling the devastation “unprecedented and extensive”.
At least 21 people have been injured in the storm, currently graded as a category three, and there are also widespread power cuts. Hurricanes are rated from category one to five based on sustained wind speed, with a category three meaning “devastating damage will occur”.
By Monday night, Dorian had been hovering over Grand Bahama for almost 40 hours with maximum sustained winds of 145mph (233kph).
It is expected to stay in roughly the same place until at least Tuesday morning local time. It is about 100 miles east of Florida’s West Palm Beach.
It will then move “dangerously close” to the Florida east coast through Wednesday evening before moving north to coastal Georgia and South Carolina into Thursday, forecasters said.
Dorian unleashed massive flooding across the Bahamas, battering the islands with so much wind and water that rescue crews were forced to seek shelter.
Roofs were shredded, cars were hurled into the distance and authorities urged people trapped in flooded homes to find flotation devices and use hammers to break out of their attics if necessary.
Officials said they received a “tremendous” number of calls from people in flooded homes, and a radio station received more than 2,000 distress messages, including reports of a five-month-old baby stranded on a roof.
Police Chief Samuel Butler said rescue teams had to wait until weather conditions improved, but urged people to remain calm and share their GPS coordinates.
“We simply cannot get to you,” he told Bahamas radio station ZNS.
On Sunday, Dorian’s maximum sustained winds had reached 185mph (297kph), with gusts up to 220mph (354kph), tying the record for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever to make landfall.
Forecasters warned that Dorian could generate a storm surge as high as 23ft (seven metres).
Here are the most likely times of arrival of tropical storm force winds from #Dorian in the next 3 days:
-Central Florida Coast Tuesday Morning
-North Florida Coast Tuesday Afternoon
-Georgia Coast Tuesday Night
-South Carolina Coast Early Wednesday pic.twitter.com/Qoq0iFCMlG
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 2, 2019
Florida’s busiest airport – Orlando – will close at 2am on Tuesday, due to safety concerns as wind speeds could reach up to 45mph (72.4kph).
More than 1,300 flights have been cancelled within, to and from the US mostly due to Dorian, according to flight tracking site FlightAware. At least another 1,000 cancellations are expected on Tuesday.