Hurricane Dorian has caused "devastating" damage as it moves across the Bahamas and toward Florida on a hard-to-predict route. Experts warn of a life-threatening impact, though the storm might just miss the US coastline.
Winds reaching 295 kilometers (185 miles) per hour ripped down power lines, shredded roads and overturned cars in the Bahamas as Dorian hammered the islands on Sunday and Monday.
The storm has killed at least five people in the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said.
"Our focus right now is rescue, recovery and prayer," he wrote on Twitter.
Dorian was classed as a Category 5 hurricane, the most dangerous on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, on Sunday before being downgraded to a Category 4 on Monday.
It made landfall on the northwest section of the archipelago earlier on Sunday with its "fury" continuing to bear down on the Grand Bahama island, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
'Worst day of my life'
In an emotional press conference, Minnis described Dorian as a "monster storm."
"This is probably the most sad and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people," the 65-year-old leader said in televised remarks. "I just want to say as a physician I've been trained to withstand many things, but never anything like this."
Dorian's winds have grown in strength in recent days, but the storm itself is moving slower, prolonging its impact on islands in its path. NHC director Ken Graham said the Bahamas would be facing "major hurricane winds ... storm surge [and] torrential rainfall" for 30 hours or more.
The storm continues to crawl toward Florida with its core around 170 kilometers away from West Palm Beach.
Near miss or full impact?
The storm's path might take it north before it makes landfall on US territory, albeit with very little room to spare. US experts have predicted that Dorian will be some 40 to 50 miles off Florida's coast on Tuesday and Wednesday, with hurricane force winds reaching some 35 miles toward the shore.
However, NHC director Graham pointed that this outcome is far from certain and that with every new forecast "we keep nudging [Dorian's track] a little bit to the left" and closer to the coast.
"Life-threatening storm surge and dangerous hurricane-force winds are expected along portions of the Florida east coast through mid-week, and storm surge and hurricane warning are in effect," the NHC said online.
"Only a slight deviation to the left of the official forecast would bring the core of Dorian near or over the Florida east coast."
The storm still threatens Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina with powerful winds and potentially deadly flooding. The governors of Georgia and South Carolina have ordered mandatory evacuations of their states' coastal areas as of noon Monday.
One of the strongest storms ever recorded
With maximum sustained winds of 295 kilometers per hour and gusts reaching up to 354 kilometers per hour, Dorian is among the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic. It's tied for second place with Gilbert in 1998, Wilma in 2005 and the 1935 Labor Day hurricane.
First place is still claimed by Hurricane Allen, which marked winds of around 306 kilometers per hour in 1980, but never made landfall.
rs, dj/cmk (AP, Reuters, AFP)