Hurricane Dorian is slamming into the north-western Bahamas as a catastrophic category five storm, expected to bring devastating winds and very heavy rain.
The “extremely dangerous” storm is the strongest ever hurricane recorded in the area, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said, with winds of up to 180mph (285km/h).
Grand Bahama residents have been evacuating from its predicted path.
The storm surge could be as high as 23ft (7m), officials warned.
Dorian, moving westward at 7mph (11km/h), was expected to continue to move over Great Abaco Island and near, or over, Grand Bahama Island later on Sunday into Monday.
Authorities closed some airports in the outlying islands, but the main international airport remains open on Sunday.
After hitting the Bahamas, it should move closer to the Florida east coast late on Monday through Tuesday night local time.
US President Donald Trump said he was monitoring Dorian. He cancelled a planned trip to Poland, sending Vice-President Mike Pence in his place.
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.
Category five hurricanes, with winds of at least 157mph, are extremely rare, although four other storms – Michael, Maria, Irma and Matthew – reached this level in the last three years.
Forecasters said they expected Dorian to shift eastwards around the middle of the week, putting the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina at risk.
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 the islands.
At a news conference, Mr Minnis begged residents to head for the main island to escape the “devastating, dangerous storm”.
“I want you to remember: homes, houses, structures can be replaced. Lives cannot be replaced,” he said, adding that 73,000 people and 21,000 homes were at risk.
Dorian’s exact path remained uncertain but millions were at risk, as well as holiday attractions such as Walt Disney World and President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for the whole state and activated 2,500 National Guard troops with another 1,500 on standby. -BBC