'Total devastation': Hurricane slams parts of the Bahamas

FREEPORT, Bahamas (AP) — Relief officials reported scenes of utter ruin Tuesday in parts of the Bahamas and rushed to deal with an unfolding humanitarian crisis in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, the most powerful storm on record ever to hit the islands. At least seven deaths were reported, with the full scope of the disaster still unknown.

The storm's punishing winds and muddy brown floodwaters destroyed or severely damaged thousands of homes, crippled hospitals and trapped people in attics.

"It's total devastation. It's decimated. Apocalyptic," said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a local hurricane relief organization and flew over the Bahamas' hard-hit Abaco Islands. "It's not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again."

She said her representative on Abaco told her that there were "a lot more dead" and that the bodies were being gathered. The prime minister also expected more deaths and predicted that rebuilding would require "a massive, coordinated effort."

"We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country's history," Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told a news conference. "No effort or resources will be held back."

Emergency authorities struggled to reach victims and urged people to hang on.

"We don't want people thinking we've forgotten them. ... We know what your conditions are," Tammy Mitchell of the Bahamas' National Emergency Management Agency told ZNS Bahamas radio station.

With their heads bowed against heavy wind and rain, rescuers began evacuating people from the storm's aftermath across Grand Bahama late Tuesday, using jet skis, boats and even a huge bulldozer that cradled children and adults in its digger as it cut through deep waters and carried them to safety.

One rescuer gently scooped up an elderly man in his arms and walked toward a pickup truck waiting to evacuate him and others to higher ground.

Practically parking over a portion of the Bahamas for a day and a half, Dorian pounded the northern Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama with winds up to 185 mph (295 kph) and torrential rain before finally moving into open waters Tuesday on a course for Florida. Its winds were down to a still-dangerous 110 mph (175 kph), making it a Category 2 storm.

Over 2 million people along the coast in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina were warned to evacuate. While the threat of a direct hit on Florida had all but evaporated, Dorian was expected to pass dangerously close to Georgia and South Carolina — and perhaps strike North Carolina — on Thursday or Friday.

Even if landfall does not occur, the system is likely to cause storm surge and severe flooding, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

"Don't tough it out. Get out," said U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency official Carlos Castillo.

In the Bahamas, Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said more than 13,000 houses, or about 45% of the homes on Grand Bahama and Abaco, were believed to be severely damaged or destroyed. U.N. officials said more than 60,000 people on the hard-hit islands will need food, and the Red Cross said some 62,000 will need clean drinking water.

"What we are hearing lends credence to the fact that this has been a catastrophic storm and a catastrophic impact," Cochrane said.

Lawson Bates, a staffer for Arkansas-based MedicCorps, flew over Abaco and said: "It looks completely flattened. There's boats way inland that are flipped over. It's total devastation."

The Red Cross authorized $500,000 for the first wave of disaster relief, Cochrane said. And U.N. humanitarian teams stood ready to go into the stricken areas to help assess damage and the country's needs, U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said. The U.S. government also sent a disaster response team.

Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, with a combined population of about 70,000, are known for their marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts. To the south, the Bahamas' most populous island, New Providence, which includes the capital city, Nassau, and has over a quarter-million people, suffered little damage.

The U.S. Coast Guard airlifted at least 21 people injured on Abaco. Choppy, coffee-colored floodwaters reached roofs and the tops of palm trees.

"We will confirm what the real situation is on the ground," Health Minister Duane Sands said. "We are hoping and praying that the loss of life is limited."

Sands said Dorian rendered the main hospital on Grand Bahama unusable, while the hospital in Marsh Harbor in Abaco was in need of food, water, medicine and surgical supplies. He said crews were trying to airlift five to seven kidney failure patients from Abaco who had not received dialysis since Friday.

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This Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019 image provided by NASA shows a view of Hurricane Dorian from the International Space Station as it churned over the Atlantic Ocean north of Puerto Rico. Leaving mercifully little damage in its wake in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Hurricane Dorian swirled toward the U.S., with forecasters warning it will draw energy from the warm, open waters as it closes in. (NASA via AP)
Store shelves are empty of bottled water as residents buy supplies in preparation for Hurricane Dorian, in Doral, Fla., Thursday, July 29, 2019. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Dorian could hit the Florida coast over the weekend as a major hurricane. (AP Photo/Marcus Lim)
Shoppers prepare ahead of Hurricane Dorian at The Home Depot on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Pembroke Pines, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Empty shelves are seen with a sign at Costco stating that the retailer is currently sold out of water ahead of Hurricane Dorian on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Davie, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham, left, looks on as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks about Tropical Storm Dorian outside of the the National Hurricane Center, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
This GOES-16 satellite image taken Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, at 14:20 UTC and provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows Hurricane Dorian, right, moving over open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Dorian was expected to grow into a potentially devastating Category 3 hurricane before hitting the U.S. mainland late Sunday or early Monday somewhere between the Florida Keys and southern Georgia. (NOAA via AP)
Shoppers wait in long lines at Costco, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Davie, Fla., as they stock up on supplies ahead of Hurricane Dorian. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA - AUGUST 30: People walk to their boat through a flooded parking lot at the Haulover Marine Center before the arrival of Hurricane Dorian on August 30, 2019 in Miami Beach, Florida. The high water was due to King tide which may cause additional problems as Hurricane Dorian arrives in the area as a possible Category 4 storm along the Florida coast. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA - AUGUST 30: Weston Rice drives through a flooded parking lot as he prepares to drop his jet ski into the water at the Haulover Marine Center before the arrival of Hurricane Dorian on August 30, 2019 in Miami Beach, Florida. The high water was due to King tide which may cause additional problems as Hurricane Dorian arrives in the area as a possible Category 4 storm along the Florida coast. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A man stands on a store's roof as he works to prepare it for the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in Freeport on Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019. Hurricane Dorian intensified yet again Sunday as it closed in on the northern Bahamas, threatening to batter islands with Category 5-strength winds, pounding waves and torrential rain. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
This GOES-16 satellite image taken Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, at 17:00 UTC and provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows Hurricane Dorian, right, churning over the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Dorian struck the northern Bahamas on Sunday as a catastrophic Category 5 storm, its 185 mph winds ripping off roofs and tearing down power lines as hundreds hunkered in schools, churches and other shelters. (NOAA via AP)
President Donald Trump, left, listens as Kenneth Graham, director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center, on screen, gives an update during a briefing about Hurricane Dorian at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, in Washington, at right of Trump is Acting Administrator Pete Gaynor, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler, and Neil Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing about Hurricane Dorian at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, in Washington, as Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, left, looks on. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
People walk on a largely deserted beach of the Atlantic Ocean on the barrier island in Vero Beach, Fla., Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019. The barrier island is under a voluntary evacuation today and a mandatory evacuation tomorrow in preparation for the possibility of Hurricane Dorian making landfall. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
RIVIERA BEACH, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 1: Workers place shutters over the windows of a Food Mart store as the owner prepares just in case Hurricane Dorian hits the area on September 1, 2019 in Riviera Beach, Florida. Dorian was projected to make landfall along the Florida coast but now projections have it making a sharp turn to the north as it closes in on Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Tree branches are seen in the road during the approach of Hurricane Dorian on September 1, 2019 in Nassau, Bahamas. - Hurricane Dorian strengthened into a catastrophic Category 5 storm Sunday, packing 160 mph (267 kph) winds as it was about to slam into the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, US weather forecasters said."#Dorian is now a category 5 #hurricane with 160 mph sustained winds," the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in a tweet. "The eyewall of this catastrophic hurricane is about to hit the Abaco Islands with devastating winds," it said.The slow moving storm was expected to linger over the Bahamas through Sunday and much of Monday, dumping up to 25 inches of rain in some areas and unleashing storm surges of 10 to 15-feet, forecasters said. (Photo by Lucy WORBOYS / AFP) (Photo credit should read LUCY WORBOYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Tree branches are seen in the road during the approach of Hurricane Dorian on September 1, 2019 in Nassau, Bahamas. - Hurricane Dorian strengthened into a catastrophic Category 5 storm Sunday, packing 160 mph (267 kph) winds as it was about to slam into the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, US weather forecasters said."#Dorian is now a category 5 #hurricane with 160 mph sustained winds," the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in a tweet. "The eyewall of this catastrophic hurricane is about to hit the Abaco Islands with devastating winds," it said.The slow moving storm was expected to linger over the Bahamas through Sunday and much of Monday, dumping up to 25 inches of rain in some areas and unleashing storm surges of 10 to 15-feet, forecasters said. (Photo by Lucy WORBOYS / AFP) (Photo credit should read LUCY WORBOYS/AFP/Getty Images)
The entrance to Wambasso Beach County Park is closed in Wambasso Beach, Florida on September 1, 2019, ahead of Hurricane Dorian. - Hurricane Dorian unleashed "catastrophic conditions" as it hit the northern Bahamas, lashing the low-lying island chain with devastating 180 mph (285 kph) winds, the most intense in its modern history. Florida residents, meanwhile, were bracing for a potentially dangerous brush with the storm as it slowly turns north after passing the Bahamas. (Photo by Adam DelGiudice / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADAM DELGIUDICE/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump receives a briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) on Hurricane Dorian in Washington, DC, on September 1, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump receives a briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) on Hurricane Dorian in Washington, DC, on September 1, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
ATLANTIC OCEAN - SEPTEMBER 1: In this NOAA GOES-East satellite handout image, Hurricane Dorian, now a Cat. 5 storm, tracks towards the Florida coast taken at 13:20Z September 1, 2019 in the Atlantic Ocean. A hurricane warning is in effect for much of the northwestern Bahamas as it gets hit with 175 mph winds. According to the National Hurricane Center Dorian is predicted to hit the U.S. as a Category 4 storm. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
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The Grand Bahama airport was under 6 feet (2 meters) of water.

As of 8 p.m. EDT, Dorian was centered about 110 miles (180 kilometers) east of Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was moving northwest at 6 mph (7 kph). Hurricane-force winds extended up to 60 miles (95 kilometers) from its center.

The coastline from north of West Palm Beach, Florida, through Georgia was expected to get 3 to 6 inches of rain, with 9 inches in places, while the Carolinas could get 5 to 10 inches and 15 in spots, the National Hurricane Center said.

NASA satellite imagery through Monday night showed some places in the Bahamas had gotten as much as 35 inches (89 centimeters) of rain, said private meteorologist Ryan Maue.

Parliament member Iram Lewis said he feared waters would keep rising and stranded people would lose contact with officials as their cellphone batteries died.

Dorian also left one person dead in its wake in Puerto Rico before slamming into the Bahamas on Sunday. It tied the record for the strongest Atlantic storm ever to hit land, matching the Labor Day hurricane that struck Florida Gulf Coast in 1935, before storms were given names.

Across the Southeast, interstate highways leading away from the beach in South Carolina and Georgia were turned into one-way evacuation routes. Several airports announced closings, and hundreds of flights were canceled. Walt Disney World in Orlando closed in the afternoon, and SeaWorld shut down.

Police in coastal Savannah, Georgia, announced an overnight curfew. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper ordered a mandatory evacuation of the dangerously exposed barrier islands along the state's entire coast.

Having seen storms swamp his home on the Georgia coast in 2016 and 2017, Joey Spalding of Tybee Island decided to empty his house and stay at a friend's apartment nearby rather than take any chances with Dorian.

He packed a U-Haul truck with tables, chairs, a chest of drawers, tools — virtually all of his furnishings except for his mattress and a large TV — and planned to park it on higher ground. He also planned to shroud his house in plastic wrap up to shoulder height and pile sandbags in front of the doors.

"In this case, I don't have to come into a house full of junk," he said. "I'm learning a little as I go."

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Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Weissenstein from Nassau, Bahamas. Associated Press reporters Tim Aylen in Freeport; Russ Bynum in Georgia; and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.

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