As rescue teams fan out in attempts to reach areas of the Bahamas devastated by Hurricane Dorian, dramatic accounts of survival are emerging from the blasted landscape of smashed and flooded homes.
Dorian's punishing winds and torrential rain battered the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama for more than a day and a half, which have a combined population of about 70,000 and are known for their marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts.
The official death toll stood at seven Wednesday but was certain to rise, after the islands were blasted with winds up to 185 mph and a storm surge that sent waters lapping at the second-story of homes. Dorian is currently lurking off the coast of Florida and will make a "very close brush" with the Carolinas.
"We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country's history," Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Tuesday.
Hurricane chaser Josh Morgerman, who says he has chased storms for 28 years, said on Twitter that Dorian was "the most intense cyclone" he witnessed while attempting to ride out the storm in a solid-concrete school in Marsh Harbour.
"Winds pounded the building with the force of a thousand sledgehammers. Crept out during eye to find school mostly destroyed, cars in parking lot thrown around & mutilated," Morgerman wrote, in part.
When Dorian's eye moved over the island, Morgerman said those in the school "frantically piled into few functioning cars" and relocated to a government complex before the storm's back end struck.
"Building filled with terrorized refugees, many who had swam to safety or abandoned collapsed houses," he wrote. "The calm eye saved lives—gave victims [a] chance to relocate."
He also described how horrible the storm's aftermath is.
"Whole neighborhoods were swept by mighty surge higher than anything in memory. Areas above water had catastrophic wind damage. Many deaths reported from drowning, flying debris, & collapsing houses," he wrote on Twitter. "Medical clinic overwhelmed. An absolute catastrophe. SEND HELP TO THE ABACO ISLANDS.".
Tim Aylen, a photojournalist working for the Associated Press, had to wade through chest-high floodwaters after escaping his Freeport home with his 12-year-old daughter Julia Aylen, and his 17-year-old son, Matthew Aylen.
Tim captured video of Julia carrying the family's three pet dogs through the floodwaters.
Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said Tuesday that more than 13,000 houses, or about 45 percent of the homes on Grand Bahama and Abaco, were believed to be severely damaged or destroyed.
"It's total devastation. It's decimated. Apocalyptic," said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a hurricane relief group and flew over Abaco. "It's not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.