The category 5 Hurricane Dorian has made landfall in the Bahamas.
Videos and images shared on social media show extreme winds, raging flood waters, and debris scattered as a result of the storm’s sustained 185mph winds, with gusts of up to 220mph.
Dorian is reported to be the most powerful storm on record to hit the Bahamas, after first making landfall on the Abaco Islands, where an 8-year-old boy is believed to be the first person killed by the storm.
The government in the Bahamas has reportedly opened dozens of emergency shelters in churches, schools, and other community buildings to support those forced to flee their homes.
On Monday, the storm is reported to be moving through Grand Bahama, which has a population of about 50,000 people and is about 60 miles (100km) to the east of West Palm Beach in Florida.
“This is probably the most sad and worst day of my life,” said Prime Minister of the Bahamas Hubert Minnis. “We’re facing a hurricane…that we’ve never seen in the history of the Bahamas.”
The Red Cross is reporting that some 13,000 homes have already been damaged or destroyed, while the Grand Bahama International Airport is said to be underwater as residents are warned about “catastrophic” flooding.
Among the messages posted to social media from those in the affected areas are desperate pleas for help.
“Please pray for us. My baby’s only four months old,” said one woman in a clip shared on Facebook. “The apartment building we stay in, the whole roof came off.”
“We’re stuck right here,” she added. “I can’t swim.”
As well as being the most powerful storm on record to hit the Bahamas, it’s also the second-strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, according to the BBC. It’s the fourth named storm of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, which generally runs from June to November.
Save the Children and the Red Cross, among others, have launched fundraisers to which the public can donate to help provide support for families hit by the impacts of the storm in the critical first hours and days.
The American Red Cross has predicted that as many as 60,000 people in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina may need emergency shelter.
The organization is reportedly mobiliizng more than 1,600 trained volunteers, 110 emergency response vehicles, and more than 99 tractor-trailer loads of relief supplies, including cots and blankets.
It’s also helping support blood donation centers, to make sure that patients in need still have access to blood, and is asking the public who are unaffected by the storm to donate blood. The Red Cross has also provided advice to help people prepare for the storm, which you can find here.
Meanwhile, the Bahamas Red Cross has stocks of relief supplies on the islands, including tarpaulins, hygiene items, jerry cans, and hand-crank radios and phone chargers.
The storm is currently believed to be slowly moving west, however, it’s also reported that it could well make a turn to the north-west, taking it along the eastern US coast — and the US states of Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina have all declared states of emergency.
The US National Hurricane Center has predicted that it will remain “a powerful hurricane during the next couple of days”.
When it comes to how storms are impacted by the effects of climate change, it’s difficult for scientists to point to specific individual storms as directly being impacted.
Many believe, however, that the severity of storms is being made worse by the impacts of the climate crisis. There are some main reasons for this, linked to rising sea temperatures, flooding, and amounts of precipitation.
When sea surface temperatures are higher, according to Business Insider, it strengthens the wind speeds within storms and makes them more potentially devastating.
Meanwhile, as sea levels rise, there is far greater potential for damage caused by sea surges, extreme waves, and coastal flooding. This is further impacted by heavy rain, because warmer air holds more atmospheric water vapor and leads to more precipitation in impacted areas.
According to research from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Atlantic hurricanes are intensifying much more rapidly than they did 30 years ago.
And a study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research also predicted that higher temperatures caused by climate change would produce even fiercer hurricanes in the future.
“As climate change continues to heat the oceans, we can expect more supercharged storms,” Kevin Trenberth, lead author on the NCAR study, told the Guardian at the time.
He added: “We know this threat exists, and yet in many cases, society is not adequately planning for these storms.”