The death toll from Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas would be “staggering”, the government has warned as aid efforts are being stepped up.
The official death toll stands at 23, but is expected to rise further.
Officials are sending 200 body bags and morticians to the Abaco Islands, the worst-hit part of the archipelago.
Dorian – which devastated the northern Bahamas from Sunday to Tuesday – is now battering the coasts of South and North Carolina in the US, but is weakening.
Officials say hundreds, possibly thousands, are still missing in the Abacos and Grand Bahama.
On Thursday Health Minister Duane Sands warned of “staggering” final count.
“The public needs to prepare for unimaginable information about the death toll and the human suffering,” he told local radio.
Dorian hit the Bahamas as a category 5 hurricane with winds reaching 185mph, matching the highest ever recorded at landfall, and stayed over affected areas for two days.
What is the latest Dorian?
The Island of Great Abaco is virtually uninhabitable, with bodies piled up, no water, power or food, and militias formed to prevent looting, local media report.
Mr Sands has requested help from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations, which has estimated more than 76,000 people are in need of humanitarian aid.
Aerial images over the Abacos showed mile upon mile of destruction, with roofs torn off, scattered debris, overturned cars, shipping containers and boats, and high water levels.
Meanwhile, efforts to deliver aid are being ramped up. Aid workers are searching for survivors and bringing relief to victims. As of Thursday, the US Coast Guard said it had rescued 201 residents.
Now downgraded to a category 2 hurricane, Dorian is slowly churning north-east along the eastern US seaboard, where it still poses a threat.
The US states of North and South Carolina are at risk of dangerous storm surges on Friday before the hurricane moves towards Nova Scotia at the weekend.
Mile upon mile of destruction
Aleem Maqbool, BBC News, the Abaco Islands
We’ve heard about the record-breaking strength of Hurricane Dorian for days now but to see the impact on the ground is staggering.
Roofs just lifted up and slammed to the ground, buildings all but destroyed. Having flown over the Abaco Islands, I can tell you there is mile upon mile of this.
The northern Bahamas have borne the brunt of the storm’s ire and this is where in the coming days the humanitarian needs are going to be acute.
Is climate change making hurricanes worse?
Scientists cannot say whether climate change is increasing the number of hurricanes, but the ones that do happen are likely to be more powerful and more destructive because of our warming climate, says BBC Weather’s Tomasz Schafernaker.
- An increase in sea surface temperatures strengthens the wind speeds within storms and also raises the amount of precipitation a hurricane will dump
- Sea levels are expected to increase by one to four feet over the next century, bringing the potential of far worse damage from sea surges and coastal flooding during storms
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