(BBC) – At least five people have been killed in the Bahamas, as Hurricane Dorian continues to batter the country. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said the deaths were confirmed at the north-eastern Abaco Islands, which bore the brunt of the storm.
Some 13,000 houses are feared damaged or destroyed, according to the International Red Cross.
Dorian, the second-strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, remains “extremely dangerous”, Mr Minnis said.
Pictures showed surging floodwaters, upturned cars and snapped trees.
Eyewitness videos and reports paint a picture of massive and widespread flooding, with panicked families fleeing to their roofs to escape rising floodwaters.
Dorian is the most powerful storm to hit the Bahamas since records began and will later move “dangerously close” to the US east coast, according to forecasters.
It hit the Bahamas as a category five hurricane but has now weakened to a category four with maximum sustained winds near 150mph (240 km/h), says the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) in its latest update.
Dorian will however remain “a powerful hurricane during the next couple of days”.
The NHC said that only a slight deviation in the path of the storm could bring Dorian directly over Florida’s east coast, which is already expected to face life-threatening storm surges and dangerous winds over the next couple of days.
The US states of Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina have all declared states of emergency.
What’s the latest from the Bahamas?
The storm is moving very slowly over Grand Bahama, having earlier made landfall on the Abaco Islands.
It has brought ferocious winds and massive amounts of water to both areas, which are in the north of the Bahamas archipelago. Grand Bahama, with a population of about 50,000, is only 100km (60 miles) east of West Palm Beach in Florida.
Forecasters had warned the storm could create “life-threatening” storm surges as high as 23ft (7m).
Clint Watson, a journalist based in the capital Nassau, said people in Grand Bahama were being hit with “buckets of rain” and posting videos online showing water rising to the windows of their attics.
“You can’t fathom that but that’s what people are showing us with their videos, saying ‘Please, come and rescue me. I’m in the roof of my home and this is where the water is’. And you can see the water outside pressing in. It’s stories like that and images like that that you can’t get out of your mind,” he told the BBC.
Local media report that the international airport is under water.
Dorian is travelling west at just over 1mph (2km/h), the NHC said. It added that the hurricane would “continue to pound Grand Bahama Island” through much of Monday.
The winds at the core of the storm are spinning so fast that the centre is collapsing on itself, stalling over the area and weakening the storm’s eye. This is making it expand and cause damage over a larger area, says BBC Weather.
On Monday morning, Mr Minnis said reports from the Abaco Islands suggested the devastation was “unprecedented”.
The Abacos are home to about 17,000 people. It is unclear how many ignored evacuation orders and pleas from officials to leave low-lying areas.
The International Red Cross also said as many as 13,000 houses could have been destroyed. “There might no longer be any clean water readily available on Abaco because of storm surges flooding wells,” spokesman Matthew Cochrane told the BBC.
He said that aid workers were expecting “significant humanitarian needs” in the Bahamas once the storm passes.The UK Department for International Development said it was sending three humanitarian experts to the Bahamas.