Hurricane Dorian left stretches of the Bahamas looking as if they had been carpet-bombed, and was regaining strength as it crawled up the U.S. Atlantic coast, possibly making landfall later on Thursday in South Carolina.
The United Nations said 70,000 people in the Bahamas needed immediate humanitarian relief after the most damaging storm ever to hit the island nation.
Aerial video of the worst-hit Abaco Islands in northern Bahamas showed widespread devastation, with the harbor, shops, workplaces, a hospital, and airport landing strips damaged or blown to pieces, all of which was frustrating rescue efforts.
One of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record, the Category-5 hurricane killed at least 20 people in the Bahamas. Authorities expected that number to rise, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told a news conference, as retreating floodwaters reveal the scope of destruction.
Dorian killed one person in Puerto Rico before hovering over the Bahamas for two days with torrential rains and fierce winds that whipped up 12-18 foot (3.7- to 5.5-meter) storm surges.
In the United States, South Carolina was preparing for a record storm surge, potentially reaching a height of 8 feet (2 meters) at the popular vacation destination of Myrtle Beach, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an advisory.
About a foot of rain will drop on flood-prone Charleston, South Carolina, and many parts of the coasts of the Carolinas on Thursday and Friday, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
“It’s pretty substantial,” he said. “It’s already raining heavy in Charleston and up and down the coast,” he said early Thursday.
Media reported flooding in historic downtown Charleston before sunup early Thursday, and more than 76,000 homes and businesses were without power along the state’s coastal areas, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us.
Dozens of people in the Bahamas, with a population of about 400,000, took to social media seeking information about missing loved ones. One aid worker described an apocalyptic level of destruction on Great Abaco Island.
“There is no coordination, no communication, and things are going to get worse if that continues,” said medic Tricia Wesolek, 46.
A Reuters photographer surveying the damage on Grand Bahama Island said many hangars at Freeport Airport and several aircraft appeared to be severely damaged.
The NHC issued a storm surge warning that covered the whole length of the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina and extending to Hampton Roads in southern Virginia.
More than 2.2 million people in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina have been ordered to evacuate, though Florida avoided a direct hit from Dorian.
An international relief effort was underway, with a British Royal Navy vessel providing assistance and Jamaica sending a 150-member military contingent to help secure Abaco and Grand Bahama, officials said.
Volunteers also ferried supplies to the islands in a flotilla of small boats.
“Let us give of our best in this moment of historic tragedy,” Minnis said. He also encouraged international tourists to visit the Bahamas, which relies heavily on its hospitality industry.
As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.
The State Department said it did not believe any U.S. citizens who were in the Bahamas, a popular tourist destination, during the storm were killed.
President Donald Trump said the United States was sending supplies to the islands, including materials that had been originally intended for any Dorian victims in Florida.
Updated Thursday, September 5, 2019 at 6:14 am .