Weakening slightly but still packing a powerful punch, Hurricane Dorian churned along the southeastern coast of the United States on Tuesday as the storm’s death toll in the Bahamas rose to seven.
Bahamas prime minister Hubert Minnis termed Dorian “one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history,” announcing the updated toll and saying that it would likely rise further.
“We can expect more deaths to be recorded—this is just preliminary information,” Minnis told journalists.
As the storm moved away from the Bahamas, more accounts of the suffering it inflicted began to emerge.
Water “came over the roof. I would imagine 21 feet (six meters) at least. We were doing all right until the water kept coming up and all the appliances were going around the house like a washing machine,” crab fisherman Howard Armstrong told CNN.
“My poor little wife got hypothermia and she was standing on top of the kitchen cabinets until they disintegrated... I kept with her and she just drowned on me,” said Armstrong, who eventually made it to his boat.
Aerial footage of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas broadcast by CNN showed scenes of catastrophic damage, with hundreds of homes missing roofs, overturned cars, widespread flooding and debris strewn all over.
“Parts of Abaco are decimated. There’s severe flooding, there’s severe damage to homes, businesses, other buildings and infrastructure,” said Minnis.
Bahamas residents “endured hours and days of horror, fearing for their lives and the lives of their loved ones,” he said.
The runways at Grand Bahama International Airport in Freeport, the island’s largest city, were under water, complicating rescue and recovery efforts.
- ‘Devastated’ -
The online Bahamas Press published video of flooding in the Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport and said patients had been forced to evacuate the facility.
The US Coast Guard sent MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters to Andros Island in the southern Bahamas to help with search and rescue operations as residents trapped in their homes by floodwaters issued distress calls.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the core of the storm “is moving nearly parallel to, but offshore of, the east coast of central Florida,” while President Donald Trump warned people against complacency.
“The U.S. may be getting a little bit lucky with respect to Hurricane Dorian, but please don’t let down your guard. As it heads up the coast, lots of very bad and unpredictable things can happen!” he tweeted.
“On the other hand, the Bahamas have been devastated,” he wrote.
“I am getting the North Carolina Emergency Declaration completed and signed tonight. Hope you won’t need it!” he tweeted later.
Dorian, which has dumped as much as 30 inches (76 centimeters) of rain on the Bahamas, was downgraded Tuesday morning to a Category 2 hurricane on the five-level wind scale.
But it is “expected to remain a powerful hurricane during the next few of days,” the NHC said.
A state of emergency has been declared up and down the east coast for millions of US residents potentially in the path of the storm.
The Pentagon said 5,000 members of the National Guard and 2,700 active-duty troops were ready to help out if needed.
- ‘Some have lost everything’ -
At 9:00 pm (0100 GMT), Dorian was packing maximum sustained winds of 110 miles (175 kilometers) per hour, the NHC said.
It reported that Dorian was expected to turn toward the north on Wednesday evening.
This will be “followed by a turn toward the north-northeast Thursday morning. On this track, the core of Hurricane Dorian will move dangerously close to the Florida east coast and the Georgia coast tonight through Wednesday night,” it said.
“The center of Dorian is forecast to move near or over the coast of South Carolina and North Carolina Thursday through Friday morning,” the NHC added.
Yasmin Rigby, a resident of Freeport in the Bahamas, told AFP that “most of the island is still flooded” and it was “still raining with gusty winds.”
“I am still getting calls from people calling for help,” Rigby said. “I cannot move from my apartment. Thankfully we have sufficient supplies.”
In Coconut Grove, Florida, which has a sizeable population from the Bahamas, residents were collecting supplies for hurricane victims.
“We are looking for cases of water, canned food, can openers, flashlights, baby formula, diapers, mosquito repellent, small generators,” said Nathaniel Robinson, the pastor of the Greater St Paul AME Church.
Robinson said seven seaplanes were on standby to deliver the supplies “when the weather permits.”
“Hopefully tomorrow,” he said.
Robinson said some church members have family who were “devastated by the storm.”
“Some have lost everything they own,” he said. “Their homes, any forms of transportation, businesses. They have absolutely nothing.”