Updated at 9:18 a.m. ET Wednesday
Hurricane Dorian is crawling along as a Category 2 storm after spending more than a day thrashing Grand Bahama Island, where at least seven people are reported dead.
The core of the storm will "move dangerously close" to the coasts of Florida and Georgia throughout the night and into Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
While the once major hurricane has lost strength since it came ashore on the Abaco Islands over the weekend as a Category 5, Dorian's rain bands and wind field have recently expanded.
"Dorian has become a larger hurricane," according to the latest NHC advisory. "Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles."
As the storm moves toward the U.S. coastline, it is also gradually picking up speed.
Ken Graham, the director of the National Hurricane Center, said in a Wednesday morning briefing that though Dorian has shifted away from the coast, there still is a chance the hurricane will make landfall in Georgia or the Carolinas.
"Our forecast right now keeps it really close to the coast, but a little wobble can take it right onshore," said Graham, noting that even if Dorian does not make a direct hit, hurricane-force winds remain a serious risk from northeast Florida all the way to Virginia.
Dorian is expected to keep moving north at a snail's pace across the Atlantic, with predictions showing that the storm will be moving near the Georgia coast on Wednesday and on Thursday morning, Dorian is forecast to be around the South Carolina. By Saturday, Graham said, the storm is supposed to make a turn away from the coast.
"We've dealing with the hurricane for quite a long time," he said.
After stalling out over Grand Bahama most of Monday crawling along at 1 mph, Dorian has upped its pace to about 6 mph, "and a slightly faster motion" is expected later today and tonight, with a turn north forecast by Wednesday evening and then a turn north-northeast by Thursday.
Dorian is now less than 100 miles offshore from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and has maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, according to the NHC.
The storm spent most of Monday and early Tuesday relentlessly pounding the northern Bahamas with high winds and catastrophic flooding.
The U.S. Coast Guard released photos Tuesday of some of the damage in the island chain, which showed bent trees, boats strewn across land and wide swaths of land underwater.
#USCG Air Station #Clearwater helicopter crews, forward-deployed to #AndrosIsland, are conducting medical evacuations in support of search and rescue and humanitarian aid in the #Bahamas following #HurricaneDorian. More info & imagery here: https://t.co/asAjnsQVPU #USCGDorian pic.twitter.com/BF46yBS2FJ— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) September 3, 2019
The U.S. Coast Guard is in the Bahamas assisting with evacuations and rescues, using helicopters to airlift injured people to safety.
Until conditions improve, however, rescue missions will prove challenging and accurate surveys of the extent of the damage will be delayed.
Rear Adm. Eric Jones, who oversees U.S. Coast Guard operations in the Southeast U.S. and Caribbean, says officials are working tirelessly to get to hard-hit areas in the Bahamas.
"Since last night, we've only made it about 12 miles further to the northwest, up around the Treasure Cay area of Great Abaco Island," Jones said in a Tuesday afternoon interview on Fox News.
He says crews are still waiting to get up to Little Abaco Island and across to Grand Bahama. The Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection officials are providing search and rescue assistance, Jones said.
"They're flying over assessing where we can potentially bring in boats and land aircraft. And then they're looking for folks in distress that they can get to," he said.
The Bahamian government on Tuesday reduced the storm advisory from a hurricane warning to a topical storm warning for Grand Bahama and the Abacos, according to an earlier alert from NHC.
As Dorian tracks toward the U.S. mainland, storm effects are likely to be felt along the Southeastern coast from Florida up to North Carolina. Virginia could feel the effects of the storm in the coming days.
Much of Florida's Atlantic coast from Sebastian Inlet near Vero Beach to as far north as Ponte Vedra Beach near Jacksonville are under a hurricane warning, according to the latest advisory.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a mandatory evacuation order. In a briefing late Tuesday, he said storm surge could be seven feet above normal water levels.
"Higher than some of the most catastrophic storms that we've seen, from a water-perspective, in the past," Kemp said. "This is not a storm to mess with," he said, adding: "Heed the evacuation messages. Don't take any chances."
In Tybee Island, the easternmost point of the coast of Georgia, residents defying the evacuation order filled pickup trucks with sandbags in hopes of protecting their homes. The island's city hall is boarded up and an electronic sign outside the building flashes the words: "Mandatory evacuation!"
Still, Neal Estroff, who lives across the street from the ocean, said he has no plan to leave.
After drilling a giant piece of plywood in front of his house's window, he says he thinks he'll make it through, even though some forecasts are stressing him out.
"Where it has Dorian coming straight up and sometimes hitting right about Georgia-South Carolina border," he said. "I wish it would go just head out and play with the fish."
In Savannah, where the city's downtown was deserted except for a handful of people, severe storm surge and life-threatening winds are expected Wednesday afternoon and evening.
Dillon Powell, though, was feeling at peace. While he was relaxing with his dog and girlfriend at a city park, he said he was throwing a hurricane party Tuesday night, where he and his friends will offer up a drink called the hurricane and watch television forecasts tracking Dorian. "It's the only way to ride out the storm," he said.
"I've experienced the last three hurricanes here, so nothing really going on with those, so I figured it'll be the same type deal," Powell said. "So I'm not afraid of it. I don't think it'll be that bad, just a little rain and wind, that's it."
In South Carolina, where residents are bracing for record high tides, Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters Tuesday that all of his state's coastline is "either under a hurricane watch or a hurricane warning."
"South Carolina is still in the path of what is a very destructive and deadly storm," McMaster said.
He warned that the storm could produce "dramatic flooding in the low country," especially in the port city of Charleston. The state's Edisto Beach north to the South Santee River are under a hurricane warning, according to the NHC.
NHC says the center of Dorian will move "near or over" the coast of South Carolina and North Carolina Thursday through Friday morning.
A hurricane watch is in effect for North Carolina's coast up to Duck and including Albemarle and Pamlico sounds and along the state's northern border with Virginia.
On Tuesday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued a mandatory evacuation order for all of the state's islands. Those in Dorian's path "will be exposed to substantial risk of injury or death," he said.
"Please heed any evacuation orders from local emergency officials where you live," Cooper said in a statement. "Don't try to ride it out. You're putting your life at risk. You're also putting at risk the lives of first responders who may have to rescue you."
The order goes into effect 8 a.m. ET Wednesday.
When Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas on Sunday, it was one of the strongest hurricanes on record to hit the archipelago. It hit the Abaco islands with wind gusts of up to 220 mph.
Hubert Minnis, the Bahamian prime minister, said Tuesday evening that at least seven people died in the storm, two more than reported the previous day. Some fear the death toll could rise.
Darren Henfield, the Bahamian minister of foreign affairs, told reporters Monday that conditions on the islands remain treacherous.
"From all accounts we have received catastrophic damage. It is not safe to go outdoors. Power lines are down, lampposts are down, trees are across the street," Henfield said.
The Bahamas Press, an online publication, posted video of and stories about Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco being "completely destroyed" by Dorian. In a separate post, it showed images from the Abacos that it says are of people who were killed by the storm being loaded on a truck.
The publication also says it believes the death count is higher than the one officials are currently giving.
"PM Hubert Minnis claims the [Royal Bahamas Police Force] has confirmed five deaths, however, sources on the ground tell us bodies are being collected all across Abaco this afternoon," the publication writes.
Hurricane chaser Josh Morgerman, who weathered the storm in Marsh Harbour, tweeted after a two-day hiatus that his decision had been a mistake.
According to a Monday advisory by the International Red Cross, Dorian caused "extensive damage" across both Abaco and Grand Bahama. Early estimates by the humanitarian aid organization say as many as "13,000 houses may have been severely damaged or destroyed."