NASSAU, Bahamas (AP Modified) — Hurricane Dorian unleashed massive flooding across the Bahamas on Monday, pummeling the islands with so much wind and water that authorities urged people to find flotation devices and grab hammers to break out of their attics if necessary. At least five deaths were blamed on the storm.
“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said in announcing the fatalities. He called the devastation “unprecedented and extensive.”
The fearsome Category 4 storm slowed almost to a standstill as it shredded roofs, hurled cars and forced even rescue crews to take shelter until the onslaught passed.
Below is what Hurricane Dorian looks like from the International Space Station. Cameras captured these views on Monday at 11:27 a.m. ET.
Officials said they received a “tremendous” number of calls from people in flooded homes. A radio station received more than 2,000 distress messages, including reports of a 5-month-old baby stranded on a roof and a grandmother with six grandchildren who cut a hole in a roof to escape rising floodwaters. Other reports involved a group of eight children and five adults stranded on a highway and two storm shelters that flooded.
The deaths in the Bahamas came after a previous storm-related fatality in Puerto Rico. At least 21 people were hurt in the Bahamas and evacuated by helicopters, the prime minister said.
Dorian was likely to begin pulling away from the Bahamas early Tuesday and curving to the northeast parallel to the southeastern coast of the U.S. The National Hurricane Center extended watches and warnings across the Florida and Georgia coasts. Forecasters expected Dorian to stay off shore, but meteorologist Daniel Brown cautioned that “only a small deviation” could draw the storm’s dangerous core toward land, the Associated Press reported.
The system is expected to spin 40 to 50 miles (64 to 80 kilometers) off Florida, with hurricane-force wind speeds extending about 35 miles (56 kilometers) to the west. An advisory from the hurricane center warned that Florida’s east-central coast could see a brief tornado sometime Monday afternoon or evening.
A mandatory evacuation of entire South Carolina coast took effect Monday covering about 830,000 people.
Transportation officials reversed all lanes of Interstate 26 from Charleston to head inland earlier than planned after noticing traffic jams from evacuees and vacationers heading home on Labor Day, Gov. Henry McMaster said.
“We can’t make everybody happy, but we believe we can keep everyone alive,” the governor said.
A few hours later, Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, ordered mandatory evacuations for that state’s Atlantic coast, also starting at midday Monday. Authorities in Florida ordered mandatory evacuations in some vulnerable coastal areas. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned his state that it could see heavy rain, winds, and floods later in the week.
A hurricane watch was in effect for Florida’s East Coast from Deerfield Beach north to South Santee River in South Carolina. A storm surge watch was extended northward to South Santee River in South Carolina. Lake Okeechobee was under a tropical storm watch.
A National Guard official, John Anderson, said many people were complying with the evacuation orders.
“We have not seen much resistance at all,” he said in a phone call with reporters. People do understand that Dorian is nothing to mess around with.”