Hurricane Dorian kills 20 in Bahamas as US evacuates south-east coast

Florida residents flee homes as monstrous storm churns towards US

Monster storm Dorian hovered over the Bahamas as surging seawaters and ferocious winds brought chaos to low-lying island communities, killing at least 20 people and spurring mass evacuations on the US east coast.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis on Monday called the hurricane a "historic tragedy" for the archipelago.

"Thus far, the Royal Bahamas Police Force has confirmed that there are five deaths in Abaco," Mr Minnis said, referring to the islands where Dorian made landfall as a Category 5 storm on Sunday.

It weakened to a still-dangerous Category 3 storm on Tuesday, the National Hurricane Centre said.

By Wednesday, Dorian was pushing northwards at a relatively safe distance off the Florida coastline with reduced but still dangerous 175kph winds.

As Dorian ground to a standstill, pounding Grand Bahama further to the west of the island chain, the Bahamas Tourism and Aviation Ministry announced the start of rescue operations "in parts where it is safe."

Mr Minnis said the deaths had been confirmed in the north-eastern Abaco Islands, which bore the brunt of the storm.

There was also a storm-related death in Puerto Rico.

At least 21 people were hurt in the Bahamas and flown to safety by helicopters, Mr Minnis said.

The International Red Cross said that about 13,000 houses were feared to be damaged or destroyed.

Officials said they received a “tremendous” number of calls from people in flooded homes.

A radio station received more than 2,000 distress messages, including reports of a five-month-old baby stranded on a roof and a grandmother with six grandchildren who cut a hole in a roof to escape rising floodwaters.

The system is expected to spin 64 to 80 kilometres off Florida, with hurricane-force wind speeds extending about 56km to the west.

As the storm raged through the Caribbean on Monday, Floridians were leaving their houses to go to shelters.

Even if the eye of Dorian does not make landfall in Florida, forecasters warned it could still be dangerous.

The National Weather Service warned of hurricane-strength winds, metres of storm surges and the risk of dangerous flash floods along much of the Florida coastline in coming days.

Residents hang on to the railing as a wave generated by Hurricane Dorian crashes into the jetty at Lighthouse Point Park in Ponce Inlet, Florida, Monday, September 2, 2019. Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP
Residents hang on to the railing as a wave generated by Hurricane Dorian crashes into the jetty at Lighthouse Point Park in Ponce Inlet, Florida, Monday, September 2, 2019. Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP

Many long-time residents of the US state of Florida will have memories of Hurricane Andrew, which slammed into eastern Florida in 1992 as a category-five storm, obliterating the town of Homestead.

Dorian ties with Gilbert in 1988, Wilma in 2005 and the 1935 Labour Day hurricane as the second strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, based on maximum sustained winds.

Updated: September 5, 2019 11:51 AM

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