NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) – Hurricane Dorian left stretches of the Bahamas looking as if they had been carpet bombed, and was regaining strength as it crawled up the U.S. Atlantic coast, possibly making landfall later on Thursday in South Carolina.
The United Nations said 70,000 people in the Bahamas needed immediate humanitarian relief after the most damaging storm ever to hit the island nation.
Aerial video of the worst-hit Abaco Islands in northern Bahamas showed widespread devastation, with the harbor, shops, workplaces, a hospital, and airport landing strips damaged or blown to pieces, all of which was frustrating rescue efforts.
One of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record, the Category 5 hurricane killed at least 20 people in the Bahamas. Authorities expected that number to rise, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told a news conference, as retreating floodwaters reveal the scope of destruction.
With many telephones down, residents posted lists of missing loved ones on social media. One Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas had 2,000 comments, mainly listing lost family.
Dorian killed one person in Puerto Rico before hovering over the Bahamas for two days with torrential rains and fierce winds that whipped up 12-18 foot (3.7- to 5.5-meter) storm surges.
In the United States, South Carolina was preparing for a record storm surge, potentially reaching a height of 8 feet (2 meters) at the popular vacation destination of Myrtle Beach, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an advisory.
About a foot of rain will drop on flood-prone Charleston, S.C. and many parts of the coasts of the Carolinas on Thursday and Friday, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
“It’s pretty substantial,” he said. “It’s already raining heavy in Charleston and up and down the coast,” he said early Thursday.
Media reported flooding in historic downtown Charleston before sunup early Thursday, and more than 76,000 homes and businesses were without power along the state’s coastal areas, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us.