Hurricane Dorian: 'Monster' category 5 storm batters Bahamas on its way to Florida

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been ordered to evacuate from coastal areas

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Officials expect many residents of the Bahamas to be left homeless as a catastrophic Hurricane Dorian keeps pounding the Caribbean island archipelago, while hundreds of thousands have been evacuated in the US.

There was no immediate word on casualties in the low-lying islands off the coast of Florida.

The category 5 hurricane is now about 220 kilometres off the Florida coast, and the second-strongest Atlantic storm on record is forecast to move dangerously closer in the next two days, US meteorologists said.

On the Bahama's Abaco Islands, storm surges reached up to seven metres above normal tide levels, with higher destructive waves, the Miami-based US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.

Video posted on the website of the Bahamian newspaper Tribune 242 showed water up to the roofs of wooden houses in what appeared to be a coastal town. Capsized boats floated in muddy brown water dotted with wooden boards, tree branches and other debris.

In other social media footage of what appears to be an inland area, cars were smashed or turned over, telephone poles and trees were snapped like twigs and debris filled the yards of severely damaged homes.

On Sunday night, the eastern part of Grand Bahama was experiencing the eye wall of the storm. The NHC said the situation on that island was life-threatening and would only worsen overnight.

"Do not leave your shelter as the eye passes over, as winds will rapidly increase on the other side of the eye," the NHC warned.

After days of nerve-wracking uncertainty surrounding the storm's path, the southeastern US states of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina finally ordered coastal residents to evacuate in a mass exodus set to affect hundreds of thousands of people.

Florida waits for arrival of Hurricane Dorian

Even a glancing blow from one of the strongest storms ever to menace Florida could bring torrential rains and damaging winds, the NHC said.

"On this track, the core of extremely dangerous Hurricane Dorian will continue to pound Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands tonight and Monday," the NHC said. "The hurricane will move dangerously close to the Florida east coast late Monday through Tuesday night."

Dorian is forecast to remain a hurricane for the next five days, the NHC said.

'Second strongest hurricane on record'

Dorian was the strongest hurricane on record to hit the northwestern Bahamas as a life-threatening Category 5 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale with sustained winds of 296kph.

It was tied with Gilbert (1988), Wilma (2005) and the 1935 Labour Day hurricane for the second-strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, based on maximum sustained winds.

Allen in 1980 was the most powerful, with 305kph winds, the NHC said.

Hurricane Dorian tracker