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UPDATE 4-Leaving Bahamas devastated, Dorian regains strength to crawl up U.S. coast

Nick Brown

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* More than 13,000 homes destroyed or damaged in Bahamas

* Tens of thousands need humanitarian aid

* Hurricane may make landfall Thurs in the Carolinas

* More than 185,000 without power in S. Carolina and Georgia

* Record storm surge possible in S. Carolina -NHC (Adds rising power outage numbers and latest weather report)

NASSAU, Bahamas, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Hurricane Dorian left stretches of the Bahamas looking as if they had been carpet bombed and was regaining strength as it crawled up the U.S. Atlantic coast, possibly making landfall later on Thursday in South Carolina.

The United Nations said 70,000 people in the Bahamas needed immediate humanitarian relief after the most damaging storm ever to hit the island nation.

Norwegian energy company Equinor said it had discovered a spill on the ground outside tanks at its damaged storage terminal in the Bahamas, but was unclear on volumes and had not seen any oil at sea.

Aerial video of the worst-hit Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas showed widespread devastation, with the harbor, shops, workplaces, a hospital, and airport landing strips damaged or decimated, all of which was frustrating rescue efforts.

One of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record, the Category 5 hurricane killed at least 20 people in the Bahamas. Authorities expected that number to rise, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said at a news briefing, as retreating floodwaters revealed the scope of destruction.

With telephones down in many areas, residents posted lists of missing loved ones on social media. One Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas had 2,500 comments, mainly listing lost family members.

Dorian killed one person in Puerto Rico before hovering over the Bahamas for two days with torrential rains and fierce winds that whipped up 12-18 foot (3.7- to 5.5-meter) storm surges.

POSSIBLE RECORD SURGE

In the United States, South Carolina was preparing for a record storm surge, potentially reaching a height of 8 feet (2 meters) at the popular vacation destination of Myrtle Beach, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an advisory.

Wind gusts of up to 58 mph (93 kph) were lashing the South Carolina's coast at 7 a.m. EST (1100 GMT) and hurricane-force winds are possible later today, the NHC said.

About a foot of rain will drop on flood-prone Charleston, South Carolina, and many parts of the coasts of the Carolinas on Thursday and Friday, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

"It's pretty substantial," he said. "It's already raining heavy in Charleston and up and down the coast," he said early Thursday.

Media reported flooding in historic downtown Charleston early Thursday, and more than 185,000 homes and businesses were without power along the South Carolina and Georgia coastal areas, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us.

The NHC's storm surge warning covered parts of the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina stretching from the Savannah River and extending to southern Virginia.

More than 2.2 million people in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina have been ordered to evacuate, although Florida has avoided a direct hit.

Dorian had strengthened to regain its status as a Category 3 storm late on Wednesday with winds of 115 mph (185 kph), after passing over warm waters which drive hurricane intensity, the NHC said.

RELIEF EFFORTS

An international relief effort was underway for the Bahamas, with a British Royal Navy vessel providing assistance and Jamaica sending a 150-member military contingent to help secure Abaco and Grand Bahama, officials said.

Volunteers also ferried supplies to the islands in a flotilla of small boats.

"Let us give of our best in this moment of historic tragedy," Minnis said.

He also encouraged international tourists to visit the Bahamas, which relies heavily on its hospitality industry.

As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

The State Department said it did not believe any U.S. citizens who were in the Bahamas during the storm were killed.

President Donald Trump said the United States was sending supplies, including materials originally intended for any Dorian victims in Florida. (Reporting by Dante Carrer in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, and Nick Brown in Nassau, Bahamas; Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Jacksonville, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Rebekah Ward in Mexico City, Andrew Hay in New Mexico and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Peter Graff and Bernadette Baum)