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Hurricane Dorian: Grand Bahama Island was flooded with 20 feet of water

Hurricane Dorian spent more than 40 hours over Grand Bahama, flooding the island.

Hurricane Dorian on September 2.
Brian Resnick is Vox’s science and health editor, and is the co-creator of Unexplainable, Vox's podcast about unanswered questions in science. Previously, Brian was a reporter at Vox and at National Journal.

Hurricane Dorian hit Grand Bahama Island as an incredibly powerful Category 5 hurricane on Sunday night with howling 185 mile-per-hour winds. And then, it basically camped on the island. Dorian was moving to the west at just 1 mile per hour, subjecting Grand Bahama to nearly two full days of intense hurricane conditions. Wind gusts blew in excess of 200 mph — which is strong enough to blow a roof off a house. The storm generated 18-to-23 feet of coastal flooding. More than two feet of rain fell.

Look at this video of the storm’s eye over the island for a day (in all, the storm’s eyewall remained over the island for 41 hours — 15 of those hours were at Category 5 intensity). It’s as though an enormous tornado inched its way through at a pace much slower than walking. It’s just now, Tuesday afternoon, that the storm’s reach is beginning to clear the island.

Grand Bahama is a low-lying island. Much of its surface is below 15 feet above sea level. A 20-foot storm surge would cover at least all of the green-shaded areas on the following map.

And it appears it did. A satellite image from Iceye, a commercial satellite operator, shows massive flooding on the island.

“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy in parts of our northern Bahamas,” Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told reporters.

Videos and images have started to trickle out of the storm-battered islands. They reveal whole communities submerged in a violent sea of water.

It’s still not known what the complete scope of the impact is on Grand Bahama or on Abaco Islands, part of the Bahamas that was also hit by the enormous storm. But things are looking bad. Five people have been reported dead across both sets of islands; it’s possible that figure will rise. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimates 13,000 homes may have been severely damaged or destroyed across the Bahamas.

“We don’t yet have a complete picture of what has happened,” Sune Bulow, head of the Red Cross’s emergency operations, said in a press statement. “But it is clear that Hurricane Dorian has had a catastrophic impact.”

About 70,000 people live in Grand Bahama and in the Abacos. The UN estimates 61,000 of them will need food assistance. The AP reports that Grand Bahama’s main hospital is “unusable” after being flooded.

In all, hurricane Dorian is one for the record books. Dorian is estimated to be the second-most-powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and ties the record for the most-powerful storm to make landfall, according to the National Weather Service.

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