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When the Category 5 hurricane made landfall on Great Abaco Island, east of Miami, 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, the National Hurricane Center said.
At 3 a.m. Monday, the center warned of the ongoing "life-threatening situation" as the hurricane lashed the island with 200 mph wind gusts and a storm surge 18 to 23 feet above normal tide levels.
"These hazards will continue over Grand Bahama Island during most of the day, causing extreme destruction," it said, referring to the northernmost island of the archipelago.
Residents on Grand Bahama should not leave their shelter when the eye passes over "as winds will rapidly increase on the other side of the eye," it said.
Earlier, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis broke down in tears at a news conference where he said he could only hope that those who refused to evacuate would survive the storm, the Nassau Guardian reported Sunday.
"This is probably the most sad and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people," Minnis said. "As a physician, I've been trained to withstand many things, but never anything like this."
Video posted to Twitter by local newspaper The Tribune, though not independently verified by NBC News, appeared to show widespread destruction on Abaco.
Leigh Lamattina-Davis, a resident of Marsh Harbour, a town of roughly 6,000 on Great Abaco, described the direct hit as “total devastation.”
“I am lucky to have half a house,” she said in a text message with NBC News. “My neighbors are demolished.”
Lamattina-Davis, who’s lived on the island for 25 years, said that power lines were down, car alarms were blaring and people were “wailing.”
“Hopefully a plane will come soon and get us outta here,” she said.
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More video footage from the island seemed to match Lamattina-Davis’ description, showing flipped cars, sparking electrical lines, battered homes and flooded roads.
In one video, a family could be seen praying in a bathroom. In another, an entire neighborhood appears to have been swallowed by water. The footage has not been confirmed by NBC News.
The hurricane center warned people on the island who were making the videos to immediately take shelter.
“Winds will increase rapidly and unpredictably after the eye passes,” the center said.
A volunteer fire and recuse agency in nearby Hope Town said late Sunday that two islands, Elbow Cay and Man-o-War, both east of Marsh Harbour, suffered "catastrophic damage."
There were no reports of deaths or injuries, spokesperson B. Hall, with Hope Town Volunteer Fire and Rescue, said on Facebook.
In an earlier Facebook post, the agency said buildings had been destroyed, roofs were gone, and a sand dune had vanished.
The Bahamas’ Minister of Tourism, Dionisio D'Aguilar, said that many residents appeared to have underestimated the “catastrophic” damage Dorian could bring.
“Never in the history of the Bahamas have we seen 180 mile per hour winds, and 200 mile an hour gusts,” D'Aguilar said.“We are praying that they can find safe shelter, and they can make it through the storm.”
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The country’s ministry of health said there had been no reported deaths Sunday on Great Abaco, according to the state-owned broadcaster ZNS Bahamas. But D'Aguilar said this was the government’s top concern. (D'Aguilar is a relative of an author of this article)
“We are very very frightened about potential loss of life,” D'Aguilar said.
The country's minister of foreign affairs, Darren Henfield, told ZNS Bahamas that authorities rescued people from damaged buildings during a three-hour lull in the storm.
Most were taken to a government center that was operating as a shelter, he told the broadcaster.
“We’re doing our best,” Henfield said. “We’re calm.”
Forecasters said the storm would continue to “pound” Great Abaco on Sunday before moving toward Grand Bahama overnight and Florida’s east coast late Monday.