- Video report by ITV News Reporter Chloe Keedy
Pounding waves, heavy winds and torrential rain are battering the Bahamas as an "extremely dangerous" category five hurricane hits.
Hurricane Dorian’s maximum sustained winds have increased to 175mph, up from 160mph, the National Hurricane Centre in Miami said.
The centre warns of the "devastating hurricane conditions" which are to continue as the eyewall of the catastrophic storm is set to hit the Abaco Islands.
"Take action now to protect your life!" the centre added.
People are hunkering down in schools, churches and other shelters as the hurricane approaches.
The storm was centred about 35 miles east of Great Abaco Island and 225 miles east of West Palm Beach in Florida as it crept westward at 8mph at 8am local time (1pm BST).
Millions from Florida to the Carolinas are keeping a wary eye on Dorian, amid indications it would veer sharply north-eastward after passing the Bahamas and track up the US south-east coast.
Authorities warned even if its core did not make US landfall and stayed offshore, the category five storm would likely hammer US coastal areas with powerful winds and heavy surf.
A National Hurricane Advisory warning said: "Seek elevated shelter immediately!
"Take action now to protect your life!"
In the northern stretches of the Bahamas archipelago, hotels closed, residents boarded up homes and officials hired boats to move people from low-lying areas to bigger islands as Dorian approached.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis warned that Dorian was a "dangerous storm" and said any "who do not evacuate are placing themselves in extreme danger and can expect a catastrophic consequence".
The slow-moving hurricane could dump as much as four feet (one metre) of rain, unleash devastating winds and whip up a dangerous storm surge, private meteorologist Ryan Maue said.
Government spokesman Kevin Harris said Dorian was expected to impact some 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes.
Authorities closed airports for The Abaco Islands, Grand Bahama and Bimini, but Lynden Pindling International Airport at the capital of Nassau remained open.
Jeffrey Allen, who lives in Freeport on Grand Bahama, said he had learned after several storms that sometimes predictions of damage do not materialise, but he was still taking precautions.
“It’s almost as if you wait with anticipation, hoping that it’s never as bad as they say it will be. However, you prepare for the worst nonetheless,” he said.
On average, the Bahamas archipelago gets a direct hit from a hurricane every four years, officials said.
The slow-crawling storm was predicted to take until Sunday evening to pass over the Bahamas, and then turn sharply and skirt up the US coast, staying just off Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday and then buffeting South Carolina on Thursday and North Carolina into Friday morning.