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UPDATE 14-Hurricane Dorian hammers Bahamas, forecast to move dangerously close to Florida

Gabriella Borter

close to Florida@ (Adds storm's path in Bahamas, Florida, quotes from Florida residents, officials)

TITUSVILLE, Fla., Sept 1 (Reuters) - Hurricane Dorian crashed into the Bahamas on Sunday as the second strongest Atlantic storm on record and was forecast to move dangerously close to Florida in the next two days, U.S. forecasters said.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Dorian made landfall on Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands as a Category 5 storm with maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (295 kph) and gusts of more than 220 mph (354 kph). It made a second landfall on Great Abaco Island near Marsh Harbor and was about 175 miles (280 km) from the Florida coast.

Millions of people from Florida to North Carolina were bracing for Dorian's possible landfall or for the storm to veer north into the Atlantic Ocean. Parts of Florida were evacuating and Georgia and the Carolinas prepared for high winds and flooding.

Even a glancing blow from one of the strongest storms ever to menace Florida could bring torrential rains and damaging winds, the Miami-based NHC said.

"On this track, the core of extremely dangerous Hurricane Dorian will continue to pound Great Abaco this evening and move near or over Grand Bahama Island tonight and Monday," the NHC said in a 5 p.m. (2100 GMT) advisory. "The hurricane will move dangerously close to the Florida east coast late Monday through Tuesday night."

Dorian is forecast to remain a hurricane for the next five days, the NHC said.

Julia Eaddy, 70, in Titusville, Florida, said she and her husband had ridden out several hurricanes before and were not fazed by the forecast. "I think it will be more of the same," she said.

Several gas stations around Titusville were closed. Many grocery stores were open but boarded up and shelves emptying out.

Like many officials in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis warned residents against becoming complacent after forecasts began saying on Saturday that the state might escape a direct hit.

"This storm at this magnitude could really cause massive destruction. Do not put your life in jeopardy by staying behind when you have a chance to get out," DeSantis said, urging people to heed evacuation orders from county officials.

Residents on Abaco posted video on social media showing floodwaters halfway up the sides of single-family homes with parts of the roofs torn off. Car alarms blared across the island, which was littered with twisted metal and splintered wood. Forecasters predicted up to 30 inches (76 cm) of rain and 23-foot (7-metre) storm surges from the Category 5 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale.

The pummeling was expected to last for hours as the hurricane may slow to just 1 mph (1.6 kph), "prolonging its catastrophic effects," the NHC said.

'MONSTER STORM'

Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said in a nationally televised news conference that a "deadly storm and a monster storm" was battering the islands. Homes there are built to withstand winds of at least 150 mph (241 kph), but the 20-foot (6-metre) storm surge is higher than the average roof.

"This will put us to a test that we've never confronted before," Minnis said. "This is probably the most sad and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people. I just want to say as a physician I've been trained to withstand many things, but never anything like this."

With winds at 185 mph, Dorian ties with Gilbert (1988), Wilma (2005) and the 1935 Labor Day hurricane for the second strongest Atlantic hurricane on record based on maximum sustained winds. Allen in 1980 was the most powerful, with 190- mph (306-kph) winds, the NHC said.

Dorian was the strongest hurricane on record to hit the northwestern Bahamas.

In Florida, at least seven counties issued mandatory evacuations for some residents, including those in mobile homes, on barrier islands and in low-lying areas.

Palm Beach County, the third most-populated county and home to President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, was among those with partial mandatory evacuations. Other counties announced voluntary evacuations.

"This looks like it could be larger than all of them," Trump said during a briefing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

FEMA is moving food, water and generators into the Southeastern United States, said acting Administrator Peter Gaynor.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster on Sunday declared a state of emergency for his state to prepare for the hurricane.

Also on Sunday, a new tropical storm formed southwest of Mexico and is expected to become a hurricane on Monday, the NHC said. Tropical Storm Juliette was 455 miles (735 km) from Manzanillo, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph), the NHC said.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Titusville, Florida; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Steve Holland in Washington and Anthony Esposito in Mexico City; Writing by Lisa Shumaker and Grant McCool; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)