'Extremely dangerous' Hurricane Dorian is set to leave a trail of destruction as it batters everything in its path with speeds of up to 160mph.
The storm – which was upgraded to a category 5 earlier today – is currently approaching the Bahamas.
It is expected to pound the islands with up to two days of torrential rain, high waves and damaging winds before taking aim at the US mainland.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis begged residents of Abaco and Grand Bahamas to head for the main island to escape the "devastating, dangerous" storm.
"I want you to remember: homes, houses, structures can be replaced. Lives cannot be replaced," he told a news conference on Saturday.
He added that 73,000 people and 21,000 homes were at risk to storm surges, which are predicted to reach up to 20 feet (6.1 meters).
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Dorian had maximum sustained winds of 160 miles per hour (260 km per hour) early on Sunday and was about 35 miles (55 km) east of Abaco.
After churning over the Bahamas, it is expected to veer northwest toward Florida, with the NHC raising its alert on Sunday for parts of the state's east coast to a tropical storm warning.
While not expected to strike Florida, the NHC said "a Florida landfall is still a distinct possibility."
Communities further north in Georgia and South Carolina raised alert levels yesterday, with residents filling sandbags as authorities tested infrastructure and hurricane drills.
Despite Dorian appearing to spare the United States a direct impact, the NHC warned the Category 5 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale would lash millions from Florida to the Carolinas with strong winds and punishing surf.
Most tourists who planned to leave the Bahamas got out before the main airport closed on Friday night.
Jeffrey Simmons, the deputy director of Bahamas' department of meteorology, said Dorian will cause prolonged periods of large swells and storm surges along the north coast of Grand Bahama and the north and east coast of Abaco.
Potential damage to the Bahamas from Dorian could be exacerbated by the fact that its westward motion is forecast to slow, keeping it over the islands for longer, the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.
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