Hurricane Dorian, a dangerous Category 5 storm, made landfall in the northwestern Bahamas Sunday, slamming the island with 285 kilometer an hour winds.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Dorian is the strongest hurricane in modern history to hit the area and warned "catastrophic conditions" are occurring in the Abaco Islands.
The hurricane agency had said the storm's advance is expected to slow over the next day or two, followed by a gradual turn to the northwest as it edges closer to southeastern U.S. state of Florida.
"It's going to stall out... and it hasn't even touched Florida or the southeast [U.S.] coast," Peter Gaynor, acting chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told Fox News Sunday. "You've got to take this storm seriously."
He said emergency officials have been briefing President Donald Trump or his aides on an hourly basis on the storm's advance. "He has his finger on the pulse," Gaynor said.
Trump visited FEMA headquarters Sunday, where he urged everyone in "Hurricane Dorian's path to heed all warnings and evacuation orders from local authorities."
Dorian is expected to move near or over Grand Bahama Island on Sunday night and into Monday and "should move closer to the Florida east coast late Monday through Tuesday night." The hurricane agency said the storm could dump as much as 76 centimeters of rain on the northwestern Bahamas, with life-threatening storm surges pushing tides four to six meters above normal.
The storm's path toward the northwestern islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco puts 73,000 people and 21,000 homes at risk.
The hurricane agency, which has tracked the intensity of the storm with an Air Force Hurricane Hunter plane penetrating into the eye of the hurricane, said some fluctuations in the strength of the storm are expected, but that it will "remain a powerful hurricane during the next few days."
Hurricane force winds are expected to extend outward up to 45 kilometers from Dorian's center, with tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 165 kilometers.
But forecasters now say Florida could avoid a direct hit from Dorian, projecting its track could skirt much of the curving, southeastern U.S. coastline, possibly coming ashore further north in the states of Georgia, South Carolina or North Carolina.
The storm's high winds were felt in the northern Bahamas Saturday, forcing some evacuations and closing some hotels and airports, authorities said.
"Hurricane Dorian is a devastating, dangerous storm approaching our islands," Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said in a nationally televised news conference.