(NEW YORK) -- Hurricane Dorian is pummeling the coastline between Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., Thursday morning before the powerful storm moves "to unleash its fury" on North Carolina.
Downtown Charleston's narrow, low-lying streets -- already prone to flooding -- are now underwater, and the northbound portion of the city's expressway has been shut down since Wednesday due to flooding.
A flash flood warning has been issued for Charleston, where more than 4 inches of rain have fallen since Wednesday.
The historic waterfront city is expected to see 1 to 2 inches of rain per hour throughout Thursday.
Stay out of flood waters!— North Charleston FD (@NCFDSC) September 4, 2019
Turn around - don't drown!! pic.twitter.com/HvZqWjBbu7
Residents who didn't heed earlier evacuation orders are now urged to shelter in place as the powerful winds -- with gusts reaching 73 mph in Charleston Harbor -- down trees and power lines.
"Please do not leave your home unless your life is in danger there," the Charleston County Sheriff's Office tweeted Thursday morning.
Make sure you are in a safe place to protect you from heavy rain & strong winds tonight as #Dorian moves through N. Chas. Emergency response is SUSPENDED when winds are sustained above 50 mph. pic.twitter.com/6CicdEcaCI— North Charleston (@NorthCharleston) September 5, 2019
Hurricane Dorian, which regained strength as a Category 3 late Wednesday, has prompted hurricane warnings for the entire South Carolina and North Carolina coastline as the storm churns north.
More than 200,000 homes and businesses are without power across South Carolina Thursday morning and at least eight tornadoes have been reported in the Carolinas.
In North Carolina, the Brunswick County Sheriff tweeted this video of the aftermath of one apparent tornado. No one was injured, the sheriff's office said, but residents were told to stay inside.
One storm-related death struck the Carolinas before Dorian did. An 85-year-old man fell off a ladder while preparing his Columbus County, North Carolina, home for the storm, Gov. Roy Cooper said.
South Carolina is in the thick of Dorian before the hurricane's powerful winds take aim on North Carolina on Friday.
On Friday morning Dorian will likely make landfall along North Carolina's barrier islands, the Outer Banks, as a Category 2 hurricane.
"Hurricane Dorian is ready to unleash its fury on our state," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned Thursday morning. "Get to safety and stay there. Don’t let your guard down."
"This won’t be a brush by," Cooper added. "Whether it comes ashore or not, the eye of the storm will be close enough to cause extensive damage."
The coastal Carolinas could see up to 15 inches of rainfall. The combination of relentless rain and a dangerous storm surge as high as 8 feet could cause life-threatening flash floods in some areas, depending on how close the eye of the storm comes to shore.
Even those in inland North Carolina should pay close attention to flood watches and be ready to evacuate if asked to by local officials, the governor said, noting that flash floods can hit and cars can be washed off roadways in just a few inches of rain.
Tragedy in the Bahamas
Before approaching the United States, Dorian slammed into the Bahamas on Sunday afternoon as a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record. The storm hovered over the archipelago's northern islands for nearly two days, leveling dozens of buildings, flooding roads and submerging an airport.
The official death toll from the storm is now at 20 but that number is expected to rise in the coming days as authorities assess the destruction on the ground, according to Bahamian authorities.
The Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Wednesday that Dorian has left "generational devastation" across the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, which are both in the archipelago's northern region, east of southern Florida.
Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is now the only hospital capable of treating the most seriously injured from across the 700-plus islands and cays, according to Dr. Caroline Burnett-Garraway, medical chief-of-staff at the hospital.
Burnett-Garraway said the hospital has received at least 38 patients, including children, who were medically evacuated from hard-hit islands. Many were subjected to floodwaters and intense winds for days. Their injuries range from severe dehydration to lacerations and broken bones to acute kidney injuries. One patient had to have his upper arm amputated, she said.
"A whole family was in a car and a roof blew off and fell into their car. A 7-year-old is badly hurt. The family was taking shelter from the storm," Burnett-Garraway told ABC News, recalling some of the patients they have treated thus far.
Storm conditions have made it difficult to evacuate patients. Three men died immediately after arriving at Princess Margaret Hospital, according to Burnett-Garraway.
Prime Minister Minnis said, "our response will be day and night. Day after day, week after week, month after month, until the lives of our people return to some degree of normalcy."
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