Hurricane Dorian picking up speed, churning 'dangerously close' to Florida

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(ABC) -

Hurricane Dorian, after wreaking havoc over the Bahamas for nearly 2 days, picked up speed Tuesday afternoon and is now churning "dangerously close" to Florida.

Dorian, a Category 2, is lurking along the eastern coastline of Florida Tuesday afternoon and is expected to turn north to Georgia and the Carolinas.

(MORE: Dramatic video shows people in Bahamas swimming through rushing floodwaters)

'A historic tragedy'

The monstrous hurricane has been blamed for the deaths of at least five people on the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas, where it barreled to shore Sunday afternoon as a Category 5, the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record.

"I have never seen destruction like this on this scale on an island before," ABC News correspondent Marcus Moore told "Good Morning America" Tuesday from Marsh Harbour, a town in the Abaco Islands.

A U.S. State Department official said the Abaco Islands' Leonard M. Thompson International Airport is completely submerged.

PHOTO: Hurricane Dorian dealt massive damage to the Abaco Islands, Bahamas, over Labor Day weekend.

Dorian then came to a grinding halt on Monday morning and remained at a virtual standstill over Grand Bahama, pummeling the island with howling winds and fierce rain.

PHOTO: Hurricane Dorian dealt massive damage to the Abaco Islands, Bahamas, over Labor Day weekend.

There were reports of heavy flooding in Freeport, the main city on Grand Bahama, where Grand Bahama International Airport and the city's one-story hospital are inundated with water and the main highway has turned into a river, leaving some people trapped, according to the State Department official.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis described the devastation as "unprecedented and extensive."

“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy in parts of our northern Bahamas," Minnis told reporters Monday.

PHOTO: Debris from Hurricane Dorian is seen in Elbow Cay, which is just off Abaco in the Bahamas, Sept. 2, 2019.(Josh Terrells - Debris from Hurricane Dorian is seen in Elbow Cay, which is just off Abaco in the Bahamas, Sept. 2, 2019.)

(MORE: Hurricane Dorian to bring dangerous storm surge)

"It's dark, communication is down, we do not know what’s going on right now," Iram Lewis, a member of Parliament in the Bahamas, told "GMA" Tuesday. "Never seen anything like this in my life."

"We're gonna need living arrangements, we're actually going to need medical supplies -- our only hospital on the Bahamas, the 911 hospital, we had to evacuate that," Lewis said, adding that he was "praying that once it breaks we can get out there and do a proper assessment, rescue whoever is still out there."

The U.S. is providing humanitarian assistance to the Bahamas, beginning with the deployment of a Disaster Assistance Response Team, according to the State Department.

One clinic in the Abaco Islands where at least 150 injured people were treated was overrun by families who needed shelter on Tuesday.

The Coast Guard said helicopter crews medevaced 19 people from the Marsh Harbour Clinic to the Nassau International Airport on Monday.

PHOTO: Submerged car sit submerged in water from Hurricane Dorian in Freeport, Bahamas, Sept. 3, 2019.(Ramon Espinosa/AP - Submerged car sit submerged in water from Hurricane Dorian in Freeport, Bahamas, Sept. 3, 2019.)

(MORE: The latest forecast for Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas for Hurricane Dorian)

'The time to leave is now'

On Tuesday, Dorian was sitting dangerously close to Florida's east coast.

(MORE: As Hurricane Dorian approaches US, tips to keep in mind if you're evacuating)

The University of Florida canceled classes for Tuesday and Wednesday and over 10 Florida airports were shuttered as the storm moved in.

By Wednesday afternoon, Dorian is forecast to make a northeast turn. The storm will be close to the Georgia and South Carolina shorelines Wednesday night into Thursday, before moving near or over North Carolina's coast Thursday night.

Dorian is expected to weaken as it nears Wilmington, North Carolina, but could potentially make landfall Thursday night on the Outer Banks -- barrier islands off North Carolina's coast.

Storm surge -- which can be life-threatening -- could reach 7 feet in Jacksonville, Georgia and the Carolinas.

The heaviest rainfall from Dorian is expected to hit the coastal Carolinas, where up to 15 inches is possible.

Evacuation orders have been issued for dozens of coastal communities from Florida to North Carolina.

"If you are in the evacuation zones" along the coast, "the time to leave is now," South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said Tuesday.

McMaster warned that a western shift of just a few miles could bring enormous damage to the state.

"Prepare for the worst," he said, and "pray for the best."

Allan Vandall, co-owner of a bar in Charleston, said he's stayed open for the last four hurricanes and plans to do the same for Dorian.

But his street is notorious for flooding so he said the goal is to block the floodwaters from getting in.

(MORE: What to know about hurricane categories and the Saffir-Simpson wind scale)

"If we're not prepared it would put us out of business for a year with the damage, so we take it very seriously," Vandall told ABC News Tuesday. "But we're good at it, we've been doing it for a while, so we're ready."

Vandall added, "it's not just the damage from the storm that's a concern -- it's the two weeks before, two weeks after that nobody comes to Charleston. Economically speaking, it hits every business hard."

As Charleston resident Tina White stocked up on sandbags Monday, she told ABC News she's not planning to evacuate.

She called Hurricane Hugo in 1989 "the benchmark."

"As long as it doesn't look like it's gonna be Hugo, we try not to go anywhere," White said. "But if it does, we will go."

"It's kind of stressful deciding whether to stay or to go, and once you kind of make the decision to say you can kind of focus on getting everything ready, and that provides some relief," White said. "Then you just kind of wait and hope for the best."

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