FREEPORT, Bahamas — The ground crunched under Greg Alem's feet on Wednesday as he walked over the ruins of his home, laid waste by Hurricane Dorian. He touched a splintered beam of wood and pointed to the fallen trees, overcome by memories.

"We planted those trees ourselves. Everything has a memory, you know," he said. "It's so, so sad. ... In the Bible there is a person called Job, and I feel like Job right now. He's lost everything, but his faith kept him strong."

The devastation wrought by Dorian — and the terror it inflicted during its day-and-a-half mauling of the Bahamas — came into focus Wednesday as the passing of the storm revealed a muddy, debris-strewn landscape of smashed and flooded-out homes on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands. Officially the death toll from the strongest hurricane on record ever to hit the country stood at 20, but there was little doubt it would rise.

With a now-distant Dorian pushing its way up the Southeastern U.S. coast as a Category 2 hurricane, menacing Georgia and the Carolinas, many people living in the Bahamas were in shock as they slowly came out of shelters and checked on their homes.

In one community, George Bolter stood in the bright sunshine and surveyed the ruins of what was once his home. He picked at the debris, trying to find something, anything, salvageable. A couple of walls were the only thing left.

"I have lost everything," he said. "I have lost all my baby's clothes, my son's clothes. We have nowhere to stay, nowhere to live. Everything is gone."

The Bahamian government sent hundreds of police officers and marines into the stricken islands, along with doctors, nurses and other health care workers, in an effort to reach drenched and stunned victims and take the full measure of the disaster.

"Right now there are just a lot of unknowns," Parliament member Iram Lewis said. "We need help."

The U.S. Coast Guard, Britain's Royal Navy and relief organizations including the United Nations and the Red Cross joined the burgeoning effort to rush food and medicine to survivors and lift the most desperate people to safety by helicopter. The U.S. government also dispatched urban search-and-rescue teams.

Londa Sawyer stepped off a helicopter in Nassau, the capital, with her two children and two dogs after being rescued from Marsh Harbor in the Abaco islands.

"I'm just thankful I'm alive," she said. "The Lord saved me."

Sawyer said that her home was completely flooded and that she and her family fled to a friend's home, where the water came up to the second floor and carried them up to within a few feet of the roof. She said she and her children and the dogs were floating on a mattress for about half an hour until the water began receding.

The storm pounded the Bahamas with Category 5 winds up to 185 mph and torrential rains, swamping neighborhoods in brown floodwaters and destroying or severely damaging, by one estimate, nearly half the homes in Abaco and Grand Bahama, which have 70,000 residents and are known for their marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts.

By Wednesday, Dorian was pushing northward a relatively safe distance off the Florida coastline with reduced but still-dangerous 105 mph winds. An estimated 3 million people in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina were warned to clear out, and highways leading inland were turned into one-way evacuation routes.

Dorian was expected to pass dangerously close to Georgia and scrape the Carolinas on Thursday and Friday with the potential for over a foot of rain in some spots and life-threatening storm surge.

"Hurricane Dorian has its sights set on North Carolina," Gov. Roy Cooper said. "We will be ready."

As the threat to Florida eased and the danger shifted farther up the coast, Orlando's airport reopened, along with Walt Disney World and Universal. To the north, ships at the big Norfolk, Virginia, naval base were ordered to head out to sea for safety, and warplanes at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia were sent inland.

The U.S. mainland recorded its first death in connection with the hurricane, that of an 85-year-old man in North Carolina who fell off a ladder while preparing his home for the storm. Dorian was also blamed for one death in Puerto Rico.