Hurricane Dorian, a Category 3, was at a virtual standstill over the Bahamas early Tuesday, where at least five people died on the Abaco Islands because of the powerful storm.
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The "destructive" Dorian is "unprecedented and extensive," Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said on Monday.
Homes and businesses are completely destroyed and the country is inundated with an extraordinary amount of flooding, he added.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials are bracing for a similar fate as the monster storm next targets the coasts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
'I don't think I've ever been afraid before like this'
Residents of the Bahamas who rode out Hurricane Dorian as a Category 5 storm described buzz-saw-like winds that splintered homes, flooded streets and left them terrified for their lives.
"There's houses that are torn apart. There's tree limbs in the road. There's no green shrubbery left. It's just shredded," Bruce Sawyer, a resident of the hard-hit Abaco Islands told ABC's "Good Morning America" after enduring a night of abject uncertainty and fear.
Dorian made landfall Sunday afternoon at Elbow Cay of the Abaco Islands as the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record, and witnesses like Sawyer, who have chosen to shelter in place for other major hurricanes, said they've never seen anything like it.
"I think when the eye wall hit, we had 200-plus mile per hour winds that ripped everybody's roofs and destroyed everybody's structure and houses," Sawyer told ABC News. "Probably one of the most terrifying things that ever happened. The windows were caving. The doors were caving in. I honestly thought that our roof was going to be ripped off as well."
ABC News correspondent Marcus Moore and his news crew hunkered down in a hotel in the Abaco Islands -- and by Monday morning, he said their hotel appeared to be the only structure still standing in the immediate area.
"It really is a catastrophe here. And riding through this Category 5 hurricane was something I have never done before. I’ve covered many hurricanes but none like this one -- we’re talking about land speeds of 180 mph-plus and then 200 mph wind gusts," Moore said. "The feeling really moves you. As the winds were blowing, our ears were popping."
"You could hear the wind, you could hear bits and pieces of debris and large objects hitting the building, including a boat," Moore said. "A yacht hit our building and right now is resting up against the three-story condo complex where we have been staying."
Moore said he could also hear people screaming through the night.
Kim Mullins, a resident of Grand Bahama Island, told "GMA" she lived through Hurricane Floyd in 1999, Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004, Hurricane Wilma in 2005, Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. But she said Hurricane Dorian is the most menacing beast yet.
"The winds, they sound crazy. It literally feels as though something is about to happen even though my house is secure," Mullins said. I don't think I've ever been afraid before like this."
"It's extremely dangerous, I’ve never seen anything like this before in my entire life," said Iram Lewis, parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Public Works. "Thank God I'm on high ground with my family, but there are persons out there in distress. I wish I was able to help them...I'm hoping that this weather will break soon and that as soon as possible the rescue teams can get on the road and help."
On Monday, Prime Minister Minnis said the government "will bring to bear every resource possible and all of our collective energy to assist those in the devastated and affected areas."
'Get out now while you have time'
As Dorian pummels the Bahamas, it's also slowly inching closer to Florida.
The latest path shows Dorian moving dangerously close to Florida's east coast Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday afternoon, likely as a Category 3 hurricane. The storm was downgraded to a Category 3, with winds of 125 mph, at 1 a.m. on Tuesday.
Floridians are bracing for impact, stocking up on water and grabbing plywood to board up their homes.
Richard Stern, owner of a Ben & Jerry's store in Delray Beach, Florida, spent Sunday boarding up windows and safely storing the ice cream.
"It's a very dangerous storm. And a lot of people don't realize that even if it doesn't hit us directly, the winds and the rain are gonna be devastating. Especially with storm surge, we're right off the beach," Stern told ABC News.
"We've been through so many of them you kind of know what you need to do," Stern said. "The thing we have no control over is the size and strength of the storm...We're gonna do everything we can, and hope and pray that is gonna be enough."
"Our east coast is certainly within the cone still and people need to remain vigilant," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Monday. "Get out now while you have time."
The governor said mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders have been issued for coastal communities from Palm Beach County to Nassau County near the Georgia border, a distance of 361 miles.
"If you're ordered to evacuate, you need to do that," he said. "Get out now while you have time."
It has definitely picked up a bit on the coast. Rain bands from Dorian will continue into tomorrow here in South Florida. pic.twitter.com/aKM0xzwrUm— Brandon Orr (@BrandonOrrWx) September 2, 2019
The governor said 72 nursing homes and assisted living centers along the coast have been evacuated and some Florida hospitals were following suit.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Palm Beach International Airport and Orlando Melbourne International Airport have already shut down as the storm moves in.
The U.S. Postal Service shut down operations at its West Palm Beach plant Sunday night while Amtrak temporarily suspended service in Florida through Tuesday.
Regardless of landfall, wind gusts of up to 80 mph and storm surge will be the biggest threats for the eastern coast of Florida over the next few days.
From Florida, Dorian is forecast to turn north toward Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
Coastal Georgia communities are under mandatory evacuation orders as Dorian may bring 4 to 6 inches of rain, up to 7 feet of storm surge and dangerous flash flooding.
"Please don't take this risk -- if you're able to evacuate please do so," Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said Monday.
Dorian is expected to be a Category 2 when it nears the Carolinas.
South Carolina's governor issued an evacuation order for the state's coastal residents. A mandatory evacuation order was issued Monday for North Carolina's Outer Banks as well.
The heaviest rainfall from Dorian is expected to hit the North Carolina coast, where up to 10 inches of rain is possible.
"We have to respect the threat that Dorian brings," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday. "Time is running out to get ready."
Pete Gaynor, acting administrator of FEMA, said his greatest concern was storm surge.
"It's water flooding that causes the most death in natural disasters; 90% of all deaths from natural disasters are caused from flooding, storm surge, inland flooding," Gaynor said. "What we really want to get across this morning is that time is running out to make preparations."
"The unpredictability, the uncertainty of where Dorian will go is something that we're all anxious to find out, but you have to be prepared for any scenario," he said.
ABC News' Sam Wnek, Bill Hutchinson, Victor Oquendo, Kelly McCarthy, Mina Kaji and Katie Kindelan contributed to this report.