South Carolina’s governor has ordered a mandatory evacuation of the state’s entire coast as Hurricane Dorian threatens.
Governor Henry McMaster’s order goes into effect from noon on Monday, when state troopers will begin reversing lanes so that people can all head inland on major coastal highways.
The order covers nearly one million people, many of whom are evacuating for the fourth time in four years.
Mr McMaster said he knew some people would not be happy having to leave their home.
But he added: “We believe we can keep everyone alive”.
The National Hurricane Centre forecasts the centre of Dorian is to stay off shore while paralleling the South Carolina coast starting on Wednesday afternoon.
But a small error in the forecast could send the eye and strongest winds into the state.
Dorian struck the northern Bahamas as a catastrophic Category 5 storm on Sunday, its record 185mph winds ripping off roofs, overturning cars and tearing down power lines as hundreds hunkered down in schools, churches and shelters.
It slammed into Elbow Cay in Abaco island at 12.40pm local time, and then made a second landfall near Marsh Harbour at 2pm, after authorities made last-minute pleas for those in low-lying areas to evacuate.
“It’s devastating,” said Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism and Aviation. “There has been huge damage to property and infrastructure. Luckily, no loss of life reported.”
Dorian tied the record for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever to come ashore, equalling the Labour Day hurricane of 1935, before the storms were named.
There were indications that the slow-moving storm would veer sharply north-eastward after passing the Bahamas and track up the US Southeast seaboard. But authorities warned that even if its core did not make US landfall, the potent storm would likely hammer the coast with powerful winds and heavy surf.
In the northern stretches of the Bahamas, hotels closed, residents boarded up homes and officials hired boats to move people to bigger islands.
Video that Ms Jibrilu and government spokesman Kevin Harris said was sent by Abaco residents showed homes missing parts of their roofs, downed power lines and smashed and overturned cars.
One showed floodwaters rushing through the streets of an unidentified town at nearly the height of a car roof.
In some parts of Abaco, “you cannot tell the difference as to the beginning of the street versus where the ocean begins,” said prime minister Hubert Minnis.
According to the Nassau Guardian, he called it “probably the most sad and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people”.
Earlier, Mr Minnis had warned that anyone who did not evacuate was “in extreme danger and can expect a catastrophic consequence”.
Authorities closed airports for Abaco, Grand Bahama and Bimini, but Lynden Pindling International Airport in the capital of Nassau stayed open.
After the Bahamas, the slow-crawling storm was forecast to turn sharply and skirt toward the US coast, staying just off Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday and then buffeting South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday.
The National Hurricane Centre issued a hurricane watch for Florida’s East Coast from Deerfield Beach north to the Volusia and Brevard county line. The same area was put under a storm surge watch. Lake Okeechobee was under a tropical storm watch.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned the state’s densely populated Atlantic coast: “We’re not out of the woods yet.”
He noted that some forecast models still bring Dorian close to or even onto the Florida peninsula.
“That could produce life-threatening storm surge and hurricane force winds,” he said. “That cone of uncertainty still includes a lot of areas on the east coast of Florida and even into central and north Florida, so we are staying prepared and remaining vigilant.”
Palm Beach County ordered a mandatory evacuation for the eastern half of the county as of 1pm local time on Sunday.
That included mobile homes, substandard housing, low-lying areas prone to flooding and homes along the Intracoastal Waterway and on barrier islands.
For Florida, it could come down to a handful of miles between relative safety and potential devastation.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Dorian is forecast to be 40 to 50 miles off Florida with hurricane-force wind speeds extending about 35 miles to the west.