People in the Bahamas are running out of ways to describe the devastation left by Hurricane Dorian.
Words including “apocalyptic,” “shock” and “looking like a bomb went off” have been used, but just about any description seems too weak to describe conditions on Abaco and Grand Bahama Island.
Dorian spent nearly two days parked on top of the northern Bahamas, drenching the islands with massive rainfall and pounding it with winds as high as 251 kilometers per hour (156 miles per hour).
“We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said.
Entire villages are gone and beaches usually packed with tourists are instead covered with parts of buildings, destroyed cars and the remains of people’s lives.
The death toll late Wednesday stood at 20, but officials said search-and-recovery missions were just starting.
“Right now there are just a lot of unknowns,” Bahamian lawmaker Iram Lewis said, adding, “We need help.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has sent the Coast Guard and urban search-and-rescue teams to help. The British Royal Navy, Red Cross and United Nations are also rushing in food, medicine, and any other kind of aid that may be needed.
The White House said Trump spoke to Minnis on Wednesday, assuring him the U.S. would provide “all appropriate support” and sending American condolences to the Bahamian people for the destruction and loss of life.
U.N. Humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock was in Nassau Wednesday, meeting with Minnis. Lowcock said 20% of the Bahamian population had been affected and 70,000 people needed food.
“Nothing of this sort has been experienced by the Bahamas before,” he said, adding that he was immediately releasing $1 million from the U.N. central emergency fund for water, food, shelter and medical services.
The National Hurricane Center said late Wednesday that Dorian had strengthened to a Category 3 storm and at 11 p.m. local time was centered about 170 kilometers (105 miles) south of Charleston, South Carolina, moving north at 11 kph (7 mph). Its top sustained winds were at 185 kph (115 mph).
A hurricane warning was out for the Savannah River, along the Georgia-South Carolina border, north to the Virginia-North Carolina border.
Forecasters did not expect Dorian to directly hit the Carolinas, but said hurricane- and tropical storm-force winds extended up to 315 kilometers (196 miles) from the center, putting the coastline at risk of life-threatening storm surges, heavy rain, flash floods and isolated tornadoes.
Forecast maps showed Dorian moving away from land as it drifts up the U.S. Atlantic Coast, reaching the tip of Nova Scotia in Canada by Saturday.