The most powerful storm to hit the Caribbean islands of the Bahamas since records began has torn roofs from buildings and caused severe flooding.
Hurricane Dorian, a category five storm, has sustained winds of up to 180mph (285km/h).
A “life-threatening” storm surge of 23ft (7m) is also predicted in places, officials warn.
The hurricane is moving slowly westwards and may hit areas of the eastern US seaboard.
The US states of Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina have all declared states of emergency.
Areas of the Abaco islands were under water after the storm hit the Bahamas’ Elbow Cay soon after midday (16:00 GMT) on Sunday.
The storm also battered Grand Bahama island with high winds and torrential rainfall.
The government has opened 14 shelters and names dozens of churches, schools and other buildings on its official lists of emergency shelters.
But as sites become full, there is concern that people will be forced to take refuge in other places that aren’t listed to receive food and water from the government.
Louby Georges, director of international affairs for Human Rights Bahamas, told the New York Times that some residents were becoming desperate.
“People are sending voice notes, people are crying,” he said. “You can hear people hollering in the background.”
Officials have also expressed dismay over some residents choosing to ignore evacuation orders.
“The end could be fatal,” said Samuel Butler, assistant police commissioner. “We ask you, we beg you, we plead with you to get to a place of safety.”
Dorian is expected to continue to move over Grand Bahama Island on Monday.
It is then due to move closer to Florida’s east coast late on Monday and through to Tuesday night local time.
Hurricanes, which vary in strength from category one to five on the Saffir-Simpson scale, tend to get stronger as they move over warm waters like those off the coast of Florida
Dorian has also grown larger in size, with hurricane-force winds extending up to 45 miles (75km) from the storm’s centre.
How did the Bahamas prepare?
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis announced an evacuation order for parts of Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands, both in the north of the archipelago. All tourists were asked to leave those areas.
Mr Minnis was visibly upset as he addressed a news conference on Sunday.
“This is probably the most sad and worst day of my life,” he said, calling Dorian a “monster storm”.
“We’re facing a hurricane… one that we’ve never seen in the history of the Bahamas,” the prime minister added.
How destructive are category five hurricanes?
With sustained wind speeds of at least 157mph they are relatively rare, although four other storms reached this level in the last three years:
- Michael made landfall in Florida last year, causing 59 deaths and about $25bn (£20bn) in damage. It was the strongest storm to make landfall in the US in 26 years and only the fourth hurricane of this category to have hit the country
- Maria, in 2017, devastated the island of Dominica, where it was responsible for 31 deaths, before causing widespread destruction in Puerto Rico as a category four hurricane. A study said nearly 3,000 people had died there as a result
- Irma, also in 2017, made seven landfalls, four of which were category five, across the northern Caribbean Islands, before making landfall in the Florida Keys as a category four storm. It was one of the strongest and costliest hurricanes on record and caused 47 deaths in total
- Matthew, in 2016, was a category five storm that later made landfalls in Haiti, Cuba and Grand Bahama Island as a major hurricane. It was the deadliest hurricane in more than a decade, with 585 deaths, more than 500 of them in Haiti alone