Damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, on September 2 2019. Picture: REUTERS/DANTE CARRER
Damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, on September 2 2019. Picture: REUTERS/DANTE CARRER

Charleston — Hurricane Dorian lashed the Carolinas with driving rain and fierce winds as it neared the US east coast on Thursday after devastating the Bahamas and killing at least 20 people.

Parts of downtown Charleston were flooded, with video footage showing people kayaking in the dark in gushing knee-deep water in the stately city on the coast of South Carolina. Trees bent in wind gusting in from the sea.

Dozens of streets were reported closed as up to 500mm of rain was forecast and forecasters warned of flash flooding.

As day broke, the Category 3 hurricane was 130km southeast of Charleston, moving north along the coast, the National Hurricane Center said.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the Carolinas, Georgia and elsewhere were under evacuation orders as the US girded for its taste of a storm that caused severe destruction in the Bahamas.

Power has been knocked out to more than 80,000 customers in South Carolina, and at least 22 shelters have been set up for evacuees, the state emergency management agency said on Twitter.

On Wednesday Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said at least 20 people were known dead so far and he described the damage as nothing short of “generational devastation”.

The US Coast Guard and Britain's Royal Navy airlifted survivors and ferried in emergency supplies as floodwaters receded in the Bahamas.

The UN said 70,000 people on Grand Bahama and Abaco islands were in “immediate need” of aid.

Minnis also warned that looters will be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law,” and said additional police and defence force officers had been deployed.

Shelter, safe drinking water, food and medicine were urgently needed for about 50,000 people on Grand Bahama and between 15,000 and 20,000 on Abaco, UN emergency relief co-ordinator Mark Lowcock said after a meeting with Minnis.

“Speed is of the essence,” Red Cross official Stephen McAndrew said of rescue operations on the two northernmost islands in the Bahamas archipelago which were pummeled by one of the strongest Atlantic storms on record.

People on Grand Bahama used jet skis and boats to pluck victims from homes flooded and pulverised by the monster storm.

US and British helicopters were conducting medical evacuations, aerial assessments to help co-ordinate relief efforts, and reconnaissance flights to assess the damage.

US President Donald Trump spoke by telephone to the Bahamian leader and pledged US assistance, the White House said.

“A big section of the Bahamas was hit like few people have seen before,” Trump said. “They need a big hand.”

Aerial footage showed scenes of catastrophic damage in Abaco with hundreds of homes missing roofs, cars submerged or overturned, widespread flooding and boats reduced to matchwood.

‘Lucky in Florida’

As rescue efforts ramped up, Dorian rolled along the coasts of South and North Carolina, the NHC said.

Dorian left Florida largely unscathed.

“We got lucky in Florida, very, very lucky indeed,” Trump said.

Dorian dumped as much as 30 inches of rain on the Bahamas, a former British colony.

AFP