BAHAMAS — Hurricane Dorian -- the strongest storm anywhere on the planet this year -- is leaving "catastrophic damage" in its wake as it makes its way across the Bahamas.
The monster Category 5 storm made landfall on the eastern end of the Grand Bahama Island Sunday night and will continue to pound the island for most of Monday as it creeps toward the southeastern US coast.
The storm was blowing winds of 175 mph while it was 125 miles east of West Palm Beach early Monday. It is expected to begin trudging toward mainland US later in the day, the National Hurricane Center said. The massive spinner will get "dangerously close" to Florida's east coast Monday night through Wednesday evening, the center said.
But the state has already begun to feel the effects, CNN Meteorologist Robert Shackelford said, and winds will continue to pick up throughout the day Monday as the storm inches closer.
It will be a slow arrival, as Dorian is trekking along at an average of 3 mph, about walking pace, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
As it pummeled islands in the Bahamas, the hurricane left behind "catastrophic damage," the Hope Town Volunteer Fire & Rescue said on Facebook. Damage was reported in Elbow Cay, Man-o-War and Marsh Harbour in the Abaco Islands, where buildings had been destroyed and partially submerged with water flooding all around them.
The Abaco Islands are a group of islands and barrier cays in the northern Bahamas, east of southern Florida. Dorian made landfall there as a Category 5 hurricane just after noon Sunday.
The northwestern Bahamas will be drenched in up to 24 inches of rain, with some areas expecting up to 30 inches of water, the hurricane center said.
As the storm spun over Grand Bahama Island, the hurricane center said "catastrophic storm surge flooding" was likely.
"This is a life-threatening situation," the center said. "Residents on Grand Bahama Island should not leave their shelter when the eye passes over, as winds will rapidly increase on the other side of the eye. Residents in the Abacos should continue to stay in their shelter until conditions subside later today."
Early Monday there was a hurricane warning in effect for the northwestern Bahamas excluding Andros Island and also in Florida from the Jupiter Inlet to the Brevard and Volusia county line.
Hurricane watches were in effect in Andros Island and in Florida: north of Deerfield Beach all the way to Jupiter Inlet as well as from the Brevard and Volusia county line to the mouth of the St. Mary's River on the border with Georgia.
Will it make landfall in the US?
The terrifying storm may be making its way toward the East Coast, but it's still unclear if Dorian will make landfall on mainland US and where. The hurricane's forecasted track shifted east Friday, making a Florida landfall less likely, but not impossible.
Models now show the storm skirting along Florida's coast Tuesday and then next to Georgia late Tuesday and into Wednesday. But just because the center of the storm may not hit land doesn't mean there won't be damage. Early Monday, hurricane- force winds from the storm extended outward up to 45 miles.
Floridians along the coast will feel dangerous hurricane-force winds by the middle of the week, the center said.
Heavy rains and life-threatening floods are expected in parts of the southeast and lower mid-Atlantic US later this week. The storm will dump up to 6 inches of rain in Florida through Georgia.
A coastal flood advisory was issued early Monday for South Carolina and Georgia by the National Weather Service, which warned of a high rip current. And the hurricane center warned of an "increasing likelihood" of strong winds and dangerous storm surge along the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina later this week.
"The strongest damage is likely to be along the coastlines with beach erosion, flooding from both heavy rain and storm surge and there will be areas that are likely to experience disastrous storm surge which could lead to widespread damage to buildings along the coast," Shackelford said.
Wilmington, North Carolina, resident Christina Dowe said she bought a new home in November after her home was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Florence.
"We've just been trying to get perishables, getting water, getting flashlights. Just trying to get the necessities, things that we need, so we can be better prepared than we was last year," she told CNN's Ana Cabrera.
She says she's planning on buckling down and praying that "everything works out better than it did last year."
Three coastal states prepare
Evacuation orders were in place for 13 Florida counties as of Monday morning, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
The agency urged residents who were in areas not under mandatory evacuations to "plan for adequate supplies in case you lose power & water for several days."
"To see a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane closing in our 3rd most populous state is wildly unnerving," FEMA Strategic Planner Michael Lowry said on Twitter. "Dorian is already a disaster for so many tonight. Please, please heed the warnings of local officials in the hours ahead."
More than 900 flights were canceled going in and out of Florida airports, according to data from Flightaware.com
Orlando Melbourne International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport will suspend commercial flights and close terminals at 12 p.m. Monday.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp ordered mandatory evacuations Sunday night across six coastal counties east of Interstate 95. Possible downed trees, power lines, debris and flooding as well as roads and bridges possibly becoming impassable were reasons behind the evacuations, the order said.
The order would last through Monday night, the governor said.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also ordered the evacuation of coastal South Carolina residents starting at noon on Monday.
Secretary of South Carolina's Department of Transportation Christy Hall said the agency has more than 2,200 employees working on hurricane plans. She said department employees will be on land to assist with lane reversals and are currently working with Florida and Georgia patterns to monitor traffic flows in and through the state.
'My house sounds like the ocean,' Bahamas resident says
This is the first time a Category 5 storm has hit the Bahamas since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Category 5 storms have winds exceeding 156 mph and cause a "high percentage of framed homes" to be destroyed with "total roof failure and wall collapse," the hurricane center says.
"Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas," according to the center. "Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months."
Dorian, at one point, had sustained winds of almost 185 mph, but the storm has slowed slightly as it moved over land.
Vickareio Adderely, a resident of Marsh Harbour, said his home was filled with water Sunday after Dorian pummeled the area. One of the rooms in his home was "gone," he said and a hole in his roof kept "getting bigger."
Adderely said his four family members were huddled on a single matter in the only room in their home "that didn't cave in."
"There are three houses adjacent to mine that also lost their roof," he said. As he sent messages during intermittent periods of internet connection, he said he was standing in water up to his knees and felt strong wings that were continuing to "wreck the remainder of our roof."
"There is no way we could have prepared for this," he said. "My house sounds like the ocean."
Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Hubert Minnis, said the islands were "facing a hurricane that we have never seen before."
"Please pray for us," he said.