Hurricane Dorian has left the Bahamas absolutely decimated after parking over the islands for 40 hours and pounding them with ferocious winds and surging seawaters that destroyed thousands of homes and left at least seven people dead.
It comes as rescue crews fanned out across a blasted landscape of smashed and flooded homes on Wednesday, trying to reach drenched and stunned victims of Hurricane Dorian and take the full measure of the disaster.
The official death toll stood at seven but was certain to rise.
A day after the most powerful hurricane on record ever to hit the country finished mauling the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, emergency workers had yet to reach some stricken areas.
"Right now there are just a lot of unknowns," parliament member Iram Lewis said. "We need help."
The storm parked over the Bahamas and pounded it for over a day and a half with winds up to 295km/h and torrential rains, swamping neighbourhoods in muddy brown floodwaters and destroying or severely damaging thousands of homes.
"We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country's history," said Prime Minister Hubert Minnis. He said he expects the number of dead to rise.
National Security Minister Marvin Dames said rescue teams were fanning out as the winds and rain subsided, with more than 600 police officers and marines in Grand Bahama and 100 in Abaco.
"The devastation is unlike anything that we've ever seen before," he said.
"We're beginning to get on the ground, get our people in the right places. We have a lot of work in the days and weeks and months ahead."
Rescuers used jet skis, boats and even a bulldozer to reach children and adults trapped by the swirling waters, while the US Coast Guard, Britain's Royal Navy and disaster relief organisations tried to get food and medicine to survivors and take the most desperate people to safety.
Five Coast Guard helicopters ran near-hourly flights to stricken Abaco, flying people to the main hospital in the capital, Nassau.
Health Minister Duane Sands said the government was airlifting 25 doctors, nurses and other health workers to Abaco and hoped to bring in mental health workers soon.
"The situation is under control in Abaco," he said. "In Grand Bahama, today will tell the magnitude of the problem." Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, with a combined population of about 70,000, are known for their marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts. Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said Tuesday that more than 13,000 houses, or about 45% of the homes on Grand Bahama and Abaco, were believed to be severely damaged or destroyed.
UN and Red Cross officials said tens of thousands of people will need food and clean drinking water. "It's total devastation. It's decimated. Apocalyptic," said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a hurricane relief group and flew over Abaco.
"It's not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again." She said her representative on Abaco told her there were "a lot more dead."
HURRICANE DORIAN THREATENS FLORIDA
Hurricane Dorian's centre is moving parallel to Florida's northeastern coast as it churns north-north-westward in the Atlantic.
The storm's maximum sustained winds Wednesday morning are near 165kmkm/h, making it a Category 2 storm.
Dorian is centred about 155 kilometres east-northeast of Daytona Beach, Florida, and is moving about 13km/h.
Sea turtle nests along many of Florida's beaches are in danger of being washed out to sea as Hurricane Dorian sideswipes the Atlantic Coast. Conservation officials urge the public not to interfere by trying to rescue any stranded hatchlings or disturbing buried nests.
Volusia County's seat turtle habitat conservation plan manager Jennifer Winters tell the Orlando Sentinel "there's not a lot" that can be done. She says once eggs get pulled from the sand, "they're not going to make it." She says on Friday 397 sea turtle nests were recorded on Volusia County beaches. Since Saturday, 40 nests were washed out and more are expected as Dorian passes by.
Canaveral National Seashore spokeswoman Laura Henning says before closing Saturday for the storm, 12,000 nests were counted.
While Hurricane Dorian moves closer to Florida, two other named storms are blowing in the Atlantic region.
Tropical Storm Fernand is in the Gulf of Mexico and closing in on the Northeast Mexican coast just south of the US border, with top sustained winds near 85 kmh and higher gusts. The hurricane centre says heavy rainfall of up to 46 centimetres could fall in places along Mexico's Gulf Coast and the Sierra Madre Oriental, and could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides as the storm moves ashore Wednesday.
Tropical Storm Gabrielle, meanwhile, is far out in the Atlantic Ocean and poses no threat to land. It is expected to remain a tropical storm on a track far from North America.