By Yuliya Talmazan, NBC News
Category 5 Hurricane Dorian inched across the northern Bahamas Monday, lashing the archipelago with 200 mph wind gusts and flooding parts of the low-lying islands with a storm surge of up to 23 feet.
In the U.S., millions of people braced for the storm’s arrival later this week, with the National Hurricane Center saying Dorian was set to come “dangerously close” to Florida’s east coast. On Sunday, governors of South Carolina and Georgia ordered at least 1 million people to evacuate their coasts. Florida ordered mandatory evacuations in some vulnerable coastal areas.
When the hurricane made landfall on Great Abaco Island, a neighboring island to Grand Bahama, on Sunday at 2 p.m., Dorian’s maximum sustained winds were 185 mph — an Atlantic hurricane record matched only by a storm that struck the Florida Keys in 1935.
Although top sustained wind speeds have decreased to 165 mph and the storm’s eye was hardly moving over the Grand Bahama Island on Monday, the National Hurricane Center still called it “a life-threatening situation.”
“Residents on Grand Bahama Island should not leave their shelter when the eye passes over,” it warned.
The center said wind gusts of up to 200 mph and storm surge up to 23 feet above normal tide levels will continue over Grand Bahama Island during most of the day on Monday, “causing extreme destruction on the island.”
There was little information coming from the affected islands.
Most people went to shelters as the storm approached, with hotels shutting down and residents boarding up their homes.
Videos and photos shot by residents of Great Abaco Island and obtained by NBC News showed relentless gusts of wind toppling trees, flipped cars, damaged phone towers and homes almost completely submerged in water.
A video shot in Abaco showed dozens of people waiting out the storm, huddled together in the only apartment left relatively intact, with a roof that’s caving and walls leaking.
“This is the only house left standing in the neighborhood and everyone is here,” a woman in the video said as the storm raged outside. “This is the only safe place we can be right now.”
Another video posted by an unnamed Bahamian showed a family sheltering in a bathroom as a woman prayed for their safety.
“This is probably the saddest and worst day for me to address the Bahamian people,” said Prime Minister of The Bahamas Hubert Minnis in a tweet after briefing the nation about the storm Sunday night. “We are facing a hurricane that we have never seen in The Bahamas. Please pray for us.”
The Nassau Guardian quoted Minnis calling Dorian a “monster storm” Sunday and saying rescue teams won’t get to hurricane victims on Great Abaco Island until Wednesday.
Hurricane Dorian up-graded to a Category 5 storm
Bahamas Press reported Monday that the Grand Bahama International Airport was under five feet of water. NBC News was not able to independently verify that information.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, Bahamas minister of tourism and aviation, told TODAY on Monday that the biggest risk right now was loss of life.
“There is no doubt about it: we are frightened to death at the potential consequences of such a severe storm,” he said.
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism told NBC News Sunday that it strongly advised visitors on the islands in the path of the storm to leave before it hit.
It said 80 tourists remained on the affected islands as of Saturday evening.
President Donald Trump voiced his support for the Bahamians tweeting Sunday: “Pray for the people in the Bahamas. Being hit like never before, Category 5.”
The National Hurricane Center said Monday Dorian will make a gradual turn toward the northwest and north following its slow westward motion during the next day or so.
As of 8 a.m. ET on Monday, the hurricane was still 120 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida.
The center said life-threatening storm surges and dangerous hurricane-force winds were expected along portions of the Florida east coast through mid-week, and storm surge and hurricane warnings were in effect.
“Only a slight deviation to the left of the official forecast would bring the core of Dorian near or over the Florida east coast,” the hurricane center warned. It added that there was also an increasing likelihood of strong winds and dangerous storm surge along the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas later this week.
NBC News meteorologist Don Tsouhnikas said the warnings erred on the side of caution as it would take time to evacuate those areas if necessary.
“If this storm track pans out, the center [of the hurricane] will be 40 to 80 miles off the east coast of Florida as it begins to change its path,” Tsouhnikas said. “That would spare Florida and avoid potentially severe damage.”
But he said a wobble to the left toward Florida’s coast would bring a more significant impact, stronger winds and storm surge.
On Sunday, governors of South Carolina and Georgia ordered at least 1 million people to evacuate their coasts beginning Monday.
Authorities in Florida ordered mandatory evacuations in some vulnerable coastal areas. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned residents Sunday to make sure they are ready for possible impacts expected by the middle of the week.
Yuliya Talmazan is a London-based journalist. Associated Press and Caroline Radnofsky contributed.