(Fixes spelling of Lego in second paragraph.)
By Dante Carrer
MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Hurricane Dorian carved a path of destruction through the Bahamas and relief officials on Tuesday were preparing for a humanitarian crisis after one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the islands killed at least five people, with the scale of the disaster as yet unknown.
Aerial video recorded over the Bahamas’ Great Abaco Island showed mile upon mile of flooded neighborhoods, pulverized buildings, upturned boats and shipping containers scattered like Lego toys. Many buildings that had not been flattened had walls or roofs partly ripped away.
While its winds had diminished to a Category 2 storm, Dorian expanded in size and picked up speed on Tuesday. Forecasters said it would come “dangerously close” in the next 36 hours to Florida’s east coast, where more than a million people have been ordered evacuated.
In the Freeport area of Grand Bahama island, people on jet skis and boats tried to rescue hundreds of people whose homes had flooded on the low-lying island, a CNN correspondent said.
Tropical-storm-force winds hampered the efforts, flipping over some of the jet skis. The correspondent said he had spoken to a man whose wife had died of hypothermia after being trapped in their flooded home for hours and others who said they had watched people swept away by the storm surge.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in a 5 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) advisory that Dorian had sustained winds of 110 miles per hour (175 km per hour) and was moving northwest at 5 mph (8 kph), as it churned about 105 miles 170 kms) east of Vero Beach, Florida.
“Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane during the next couple of days,” the NHS said.
The exact toll of the devastation in the Bahamas will not be clear until the storm completely passes and rescue crews can get on the ground. Dorian has battered the Bahamas for the past three days.
“We have not been able to assess the damages on Grand Bahama Island just yet. We expect it to be very devastating and the damage to be extreme,” said Theo Neilly, the Bahamian consul general in Washington.
He added that the sea surge from the storm was high and people were still trapped in their homes and attics.
Speaking to CNN, Iram Lewis, a member of Parliament, said the death toll would climb.
“It is safe to say, unfortunately, that number will go up,” Lewis said of the death toll, and the destruction “is just unbelievable.”
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 Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas may require food for 14,500 people and Grand Bahama for 45,700 people, the U.N. World Food Programme said in a statement. The preliminary estimates were based on an assessment by representatives from Caribbean countries, the WFP and other organizations.
The U.S. military has been authorized to provide logistics, health and engineering support to the Bahamas for up for 14 days if needed, General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the head of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters on Tuesday.
The U.S. Coast Guard said four of its helcopters were assisting in the humanitarian effort.
Efforts to reach officials in the Bahamas by phone on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Dorian was expected to hit Florida with hurricane conditions overnight, before bringing its powerful winds and dangerous surf along the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina by late Thursday.
Forecasters have told Floridians not to become complacent. Dorian could drive seawater inland as it approaches, with parts of the northern Florida and Georgia coasts seeing as much as 7 feet (2.1 meters), said NHC Director Ken Graham.
Hurricane-force winds had expanded to 60 miles (95 km) from the storm’s core, with still-dangerous tropical storm-force winds felt for 175 miles (280 km) from its center, the NHC said.
After days of warnings to flee a storm that at its peak was rated at the top of the scale of hurricane strength, many residents of Florida’s coast remained unsure whether to wait it out or evacuate.
“I know it’s a mandatory evacuation, but everyone I talked to is staying, and I don’t know what to do. But I’m going to be ready and packed up in case I need to get on the road if they close those bridges,” said Linda Cassano, a 53-year-old beautician who lives on Jacksonville Beach as she stocked up on water and food. “What deterred me is everything was open, the garbage man came today, the post office was delivering, so those things kind of make you indecisive.”
The governors of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina have ordered evacuations of some coastal counties.
Dorian was tied with Gilbert (1988), Wilma (2005) and the 1935 Labor Day hurricane for the second-strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, based on maximum sustained winds. Allen in 1980 was the most powerful, with 190-mile (306-kph) winds, the NHC said.
Reporting by Dante Carrer in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, Zachary Fagenson in Jacksonville, Florida, Gabriella Borter in Titusville, Florida, Peter Szekely and Matthew Lavietes in New York, Rich Mckay in Atlanta and Idrees Ali in Washington, writing by Paul Simao and Bill Tarrant; Editing by Dan Grebler