(ABC News) — Hurricane Dorian is pummeling the South Carolina coastline Thursday before the powerful storm moves “to unleash its fury” on North Carolina.
A flash flood warning has been issued for Charleston, where over 6 inches of rain has fallen.
Downtown Charleston’s narrow, low-lying streets — which are prone to flooding — are underwater, and a portion of the historic waterfront city’s expressway has been shut down since Wednesday due to flooding.
Residents who didn’t heed earlier evacuation orders are now urged to shelter in place as the powerful winds — with gusts reaching 78 mph in Charleston Harbor — down trees and power lines.
“Please do not leave your home unless your life is in danger there,” the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office tweeted Thursday morning.
One storm-related death struck the Carolinas before Dorian did. An 85-year-old man fell off a ladder while preparing his Columbus County, North Carolina, home for the storm, Gov. Roy Cooper said.
More than 205,000 homes and businesses are without power across South Carolina Thursday and 14 tornadoes have been reported in the Carolinas.
One apparent tornado sounded “like a large airplane or a large train coming through,” a Little River, South Carolina, man told ABC Florence affiliate WPDE.
Downtown Savannah, Georgia, and the nearby beach town of Tybee Island were mostly spared when Dorian blew through overnight.
The beach by the Tybee pier looks just as it did 24 hours ago, minus the ominous storm cloud over the ocean.
Hurricane Dorian, a Category 2, has prompted hurricane warnings for the entire South Carolina and North Carolina coastline as the storm churns north.
South Carolina is in the thick of Dorian before the hurricane’s powerful winds take aim on North Carolina. A wind gust reached 92 mph off South Carolina’s Fripp Island.
Dorian may make landfall near Cape Lookout, North Carolina, on Friday with winds gusting up to 90 mph.
“Hurricane Dorian is ready to unleash its fury on our state,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned Thursday. “Get to safety and stay there. Don’t let your guard down.”
“This won’t be a brush-by,” Cooper added. “Whether it comes ashore or not, the eye of the storm will be close enough to cause extensive damage.”
The coastal Carolinas could see up to 15 inches of rainfall. The combination of relentless rain and a dangerous storm surge as high as 8 feet could cause life-threatening flash floods.
Even those inland should pay close attention to flood watches and be ready to evacuate if asked to by local officials, Cooper said, noting that cars can be washed off roadways in just a few inches of rain.
By Friday evening the storm will be in the Atlantic, leaving behind gusty winds for the Virginia coast and Cape Cod.
Tragedy in the Bahamas
Before reaching the United States, Dorian slammed into the Bahamas on Sunday afternoon as a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record. The storm hovered over the archipelago’s northern islands for nearly two days, leveling dozens of buildings, flooding roads and submerging an airport.
The official death toll from the storm is now at 20 but that number is expected to rise in the coming days as authorities assess the destruction on the ground, according to Bahamian authorities.
The Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Wednesday that Dorian has left “generational devastation” across the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, which are both in the archipelago’s northern region, east of southern Florida.
Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is now the only hospital capable of treating the most seriously injured from across the 700-plus islands and cays, according to Dr. Caroline Burnett-Garraway, medical chief-of-staff at the hospital.
Burnett-Garraway said the hospital has received at least 38 patients, including children, who were medically evacuated from hard-hit islands. Many were subjected to floodwaters and intense winds for days. Their injuries range from severe dehydration to lacerations and broken bones to acute kidney injuries. One patient had to have his upper arm amputated, she said.
“A whole family was in a car and a roof blew off and fell into their car. A 7-year-old is badly hurt. The family was taking shelter from the storm,” Burnett-Garraway told ABC News.
Storm conditions have made it difficult to evacuate patients. Three men died immediately after arriving at Princess Margaret Hospital, according to Burnett-Garraway.
Prime Minister Minnis said, “Our response will be day and night. Day after day, week after week, month after month, until the lives of our people return to some degree of normalcy.”