Hurricane Dorian has made landfall in the north-western Bahamas as a monster category five storm with sustained winds of up to 180mph (285km/h).
The “extremely dangerous” storm is the strongest hurricane on modern record in the area, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) says.
Grand Bahama residents have been evacuating from its predicted path.
A storm surge could be life-threatening and as high as 23ft (7m) in places, officials warn.
Areas of the Abaco islands were reported to be underwater after the storm made landfall on Elbow Cay soon after midday (16:00 GMT).
Bahamas residents posted footage showing floodwaters engulfing some homes, their rooftops blown off.
Videos also show capsized boats floating in water filled with debris.
Dorian, moving westward at 7mph, is expected to continue to move over Grand Bahama Island later on Sunday into Monday.
Authorities closed some airports in the outlying islands, but the main international airport remained open on Sunday.
In a Facebook Live feed on Sunday, NHC director Ken Graham said the Bahamas would be under major hurricane conditions for 10 hours or more.
The hurricane is expected move closer to the Florida east coast late on Monday and through to Tuesday night local time.
Hurricanes, which vary in strength from category one to five on the Saffir-Simpson scale, tend to get stronger as they move over warm waters like those off the coast of Florida.
Dorian has also grown larger in size, with hurricane-force winds currently extending 45 miles (75km) from the storm’s centre.
How has the Bahamas been preparing?
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis earlier announced an evacuation order for parts of Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands, both in the north of the archipelago. All tourists were asked to leave the islands.
Mr Minnis was visibly tearful as he addressed a news conference on Sunday.
“This is probably the most sad and worst day of my life,” he said, calling Dorian a “monster storm”.
“We’re facing a hurricane… one that we’ve never seen in the history of the Bahamas,” the prime minister added.
How destructive are category five hurricanes?
With sustained wind speeds of at least 157mph they are relatively rare, although four other storms reached this level in the last three years:
- Michael made landfall in Florida last year, causing 59 deaths and about $ 25bn (£20bn) in damage. It was the strongest storm to make landfall in the US in 26 years and only the fourth hurricane of this category to have hit the country
- Maria, in 2017, devastated the island of Dominica, where it was responsible for 31 deaths, before causing widespread destruction in Puerto Rico as a category four hurricane. A study said nearly 3,000 people had died there as a result
- Irma, also in 2017, made seven landfalls, four of which were category five, across the northern Caribbean Islands, before making landfall in the Florida Keys as a category four storm. It was one of the strongest and costliest hurricanes on record and caused 47 deaths in total
- Matthew, in 2016, was a category five storm that later made landfalls in Haiti, Cuba and Grand Bahama Island as a major hurricane. It was the deadliest hurricane in more than a decade, with 585 deaths, more than 500 of them in Haiti alone
Source: US National Hurricane Center
What about the US?
President Donald Trump himself has cancelled a planned trip to Poland and met with emergency management officials.
He told reporters on Sunday that the storm “looks monstrous” and the US east coast “will be ultimately impacted and some of it very, very severely”.
Dorian’s exact path remains uncertain but a state of emergency has been declared in four US states: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
President Trump has also issued a federal state of emergency for Florida, and the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has activated 2,000 National Guard troops, with another 2,000 on standby.
Evacuation orders have been given in coastal areas of Florida and South Carolina.
As Dorian crawled towards the US, shoppers were seen queuing around blocks to buy supplies such as medication and fuel.
Popular attractions, including Disney World in Orlando, have said they are “closely monitoring” the storm. The coastal city of Miami has also ordered the removal of electric rental scooters from the streets to avoid them becoming projectiles.
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