FREEPORT, Bahama (FOX 35 ORLANDO) - 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 five 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. It looks like a bomb went off," said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a local hurricane relief organization and flew over the Bahamas' hard-hit Abaco Island. "It's not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again."
She said her representative on Abaco told her that "there's a lot more dead" and that the bodies were being gathered.
Emergency authorities, meanwhile, struggled to reach victims amid conditions too dangerous even for rescue workers, and urged people to hang on.
"We wanted to go out there, but that's not a risk we're capable of taking," Tammy Mitchell of the Bahamas' National Emergency Management Agency told ZNS Bahamas radio station. "We don't want people thinking we've forgotten them. ... We know what your conditions are. We know if you're stuck in an attic."
Practically parking over a portion of the Bahamas for a day and a half, Dorian pounded the northern islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama with winds up to 185 mph and torrential rain before finally moving into open waters Tuesday on a course near Florida's east coast. Its winds were down to a still-dangerous 110 mph. The system was drifting north at 6 mph.
Over 2 million people along the coast in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina were warned to evacuate. Dorian is expected to pass dangerously close to Florida's east coast. It is not expected to make landfall but the system is still likely to cause storm surge and severe flooding.
"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 in Grand Bahama and Abaco, were believed to have been 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 a half-million dollars 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 the 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. Rescuers also used jet skis to reach some people as 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.
The Grand Bahama airport was under 6 feet of water.
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.
As of 5 p.m., Dorian was moving northwest as a Category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph and higher gusts. It was located about 105 miles east of Vero Beach and about 125 miles east-southeast of Cape Canaveral.
The NHC says a dangerous storm surge will raise water levels. Peak surges between the Flagler/ Volusia County line and Cape Lookout, North Carolina may reach four to seven feet. They could reach three to five feet between Jupiter Inlet and the Flagler/ Volusia County line.
Large swells have already starting affecting the Florida east coast. They will continue to do so, eventually impacting much of the southeastern United States over the next few days. Life-threatening surf and rip current conditions are likely.
Dorian will also reportedly produce heavy rainfall. Two to four inches are expected in the northwestern Bahamas, with isolated amounts of 30 inches possible. 5 to ten inches are expected in the coastal Carolinas, with an isolated amount of 15 inches possible. Three to six inches are expected in the Florida peninsula north of West Palm Beach through Georgia, with isolated amounts of 9 inches possible. Two to four inches are expected in southeast Virginia, with isolated amounts of six inches possible. Life-threatening flash foods could occur.
HOW YOU CAN PREPARE FOR DORIAN
See what schools are closed HERE.
See active evacuation notices HERE.
Find the nearest emergency shelter HERE.
See the active curfew times HERE.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.