The US State of Florida and some neighbouring states are bracing for the impact of Hurricane Dorian after it pummelled much of the Bahamas for the last 24 hours.

Once a Category 5 storm, Dorian has since been downgraded to a Category 2, delivering sustained winds of above 180 kilometers per hour while moving at a snail’s pace.

Millions of people remain in the hurricane’s path as it now begins to track closer to the US mainland and up the East Coast.

Scenes in the Bahamas will bring little comfort to those who find themselves in the path of this storm and of most concern has not just been the ferocity of its impact but the slow pace at which it is moving.

Dorian has essentially been crawling at just over one kilometer per hour, with reports suggesting it literally stalled over the Bahamas causing widespread devastation through a combination of deadly winds, bands of sweeping rain and coastal flooding – a surge in water as high as 7 meters deep.

Clare Nullis of the World Meteorological Organisation, says, “As with any hurricane, it is not just the winds. It is the water that proves so dangerous and so devastating and this is what we have seen in the Bahamas. So, storm surge – and we are talking about very low-lying islands here – the storm surge has been 5.5 to 7 metres above the normal tide level. It is, as I said, life-threatening; it is devastating; it is now weakened to the equivalent of Category 3 hurricane. The winds are still devastating. The storm surge is still life-threatening, and the rainfall is still torrential.”

Dorian is responsible for at least five deaths in the Bahamas with the roofs of homes blown off, their walls collapsed while flood waters have inundated structures – a level of devastation that will remain unclear until the storm passes in its entirety.

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis says, “The initial reports from Abaco is that the devastation is unprecedented and extensive. They are deeply worrying. The images and videos we are seeing are heart-breaking. Many homes, businesses and other buildings have been completely or partially destroyed. There is an extraordinary amount of flooding and damage to infrastructure.”

As many as 13 000 homes may have been destroyed on the archipelago, from a storm already estimated to be the second-most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy in parts of northern Bahamas. Our mission and focus now is search, rescue and recovery. I ask for your prayers for those in affected areas and for our first responders.”

The United Nations Secretary General earlier expressed his solidarity with the people of the Bahamas and promised support for Government-led rescue and relief efforts. As millions now brace for its arrival in the US, from Florida to North Carolina, with mandatory evacuations in force along vulnerable coastal areas, President Donald Trump says, its effects will be felt hundreds of miles or more from the eye of the storm and long before it potentially makes landfall.

“We expect that much of the eastern seaboard will be ultimately impacted and some of it very, very severely. My administration is coordinating closely with state and local authorities.”

The National Hurricane Centre believes this system will remain dangerously close to the Florida and the southern states but the eye of the storm is expected to remain off-shore as the outer bands – which extend some 70 kilometers from the nucleus of the system – bring sweeping rains and winds to the states of Georgia and South Carolina by Wednesday. But the Centre has also warned that any slight deviation to the left of this track could bring the core of the hurricane over the coastline with devastating consequences.