- At least 21 deaths have been confirmed in the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.
- A government official says it could take billions to fund recovery and reconstruction.
- Rescuers and relief groups are having trouble reaching survivors.
- Relatives and friends are using social media to try to find missing people.
Aid groups are trying to get food and medicine to survivors and take the most desperate people to safety from the two northern Bahamas islands scoured by Hurricane Dorian, as harrowing tales of the storm’s wrath continue to emerge from survivors.
Roads are still mostly impassable and airports shut down on Abaco and Grand Bahama, after the storm lashed the two islands as a Category 5 hurricane.
Twenty-one people were reported dead as of Thursday afternoon.
“But bear in mind that search and rescue exercises, exploration of homes that were flooded, is just now starting,” Minister of Health Duane Sands said, according to the Nassau Guardian.
Sands said crews would be going door to door in both Abaco and Grand Bahama “and we don’t know what we’re going to find.”
A man described to the newspaper what happened when his five-year-old son was swept away beyond his reach and disappeared into the storm surge covering Abaco.
“I still could remember him reaching for me and calling me, ‘Daddy,’” Adrian Farrington said.
He didn’t see the boy again.
The U.S. Coast Guard said it had rescued 135 people and six pets as of Thursday morning. The Coast Guard is conducting air operations out of Andros Island with seven MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters and three MH-65 Dolphin helicopters. They are conducting search and rescue missions, area assessments and providing logistical support.
Three Coast Guard cutters are posted near the Bahamas ready to assist with response efforts. Several other cutters are enroute.
Communication is next to impossible, but the images that have emerged from the area – showing flattened homes and submerged neighborhoods – do little to soothe family and friends of the missing.
Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a local hurricane relief group and flew over the hard-hit Abaco Islands, told the Associated Press her representative on Abaco said that there were “a lot more dead,” though she had no numbers.
“It’s total devastation. It’s decimated. Apocalyptic,” Head-Rigby said. “It’s not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again.”
“We have had catastrophic damage to both the public and private infrastructure that will take hundreds of millions, if not billions to fund recovery and reconstruction,” Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest said.
“With approximately 70 percent of the homes under water, we anticipate tremendous social and economic dislocation and disruption in the short term. The mental health of those who have endured this monster storm is a priority concern of the government.”
Among those rescued Wednesday from Marsh Harbour on Abaco Island was Londa Sawyer and her two children and two dogs.
“It looks like a bomb hit,” she said after landing in a helicopter in Nassau. “I’m just thankful I’m alive. The Lord saved me.”
Sawyer said Dorian’s surge flooded her home and she and her family fled to a friend’s house, the AP reported. She, the children and the dogs floated on a mattress as water came up to the second floor and pushed them within a few feet of the ceiling.
Greg Alem’s house in Freeport on Grand Bahama Island was reduced to a pile of rubble and parts of three walls. As he walked through the debris on Wednesday he pointed to fallen trees.
“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,” Alem said, according to AP.
George Bolter picked through what was left of his home in Freeport, looking for anything salvageable.
“I have lost everything,” he told AP. “I have lost all my baby’s clothes, my son’s clothes. We have nowhere to stay, nowhere to live. Everything is gone.”
Hundreds of people have turned to social media seeking information about their loved ones. Their pleas are heart-wrenching.
“Oh my Heavenly Father please, Someone help me find my babygirl please Lord. I just want to know she’s safe please her name is Drequel Forbes please. She was with her Grammy Deethree Delancy please my heart is weaken lord please help us,” reads one post on the Facebook page for Abaconians Reunite.
“Has anyone seen Carnella/Ricky Scott she has a 5 month baby please help PLEASE MARSH HARBOUR/DUNDAS TOWN,” asks David Prabhu on the Bahamas People Search page.
“Any word on OLIVIA DAVIS AND FAMILY ???? Family in NASSAU is worried !!!!! Somebody please tell us you saw her !!!!”, wrote N Yelang Treco.
Aerial video from Great Abaco Island provided an idea of how widespread the destruction is. The storm smashed homes into piles of debris as far as the eye could see. On houses that were left standing, the Category 5 storm ripped off roofs or tore chunks out of them. Water covers nearly every square foot of land. Yachts and 50-foot shipping containers have been scattered like toys. Floodwaters cover the runways at the airport in Marsh Harbour.
The Red Cross said more than 13,000 houses, or about 45% of the homes in Grand Bahama and Abaco, were likely severely damaged or destroyed, according to the Associated Press. The agency said some 62,000 people on the hard-hit islands are without clean drinking water, and U.N. officials said more than 60,000 will need food.
Sheryl Lewis and three of her relatives were trapped for more than five hours in the cramped, stuffy attic of her West Grand Bahama home.
“It’s horror,” Lewis told the Nassau Guardian from the attic. “All I could think of at that time is that me and my family needed to get out, but once we opened the door … more water came in.”
“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said. “The devastation is unprecedented and extensive.”
Marvin Dames, Bahamas Minister of National Security, said the number of dead will most likely rise.
“I caution Bahamians everywhere that chances that we find more persons dead, those chances are real,” Dames said. “The reality of it all is, unfortunately, we will see more deaths. I can’t see any way out of it.”
Minnis said there were also numerous injuries, and that some injured had been taken to a hospital on New Providence island.
Sands said the Bahamian government was airlifting 25 doctors, nurses and other health workers to Abaco and hoped to bring in mental health workers soon. The British Royal Navy was also flying relief missions.
Sands told the AP the main hospital on Grand Bahama is unusable and the hospital at Marsh Harbour on Abaco was in need of food, water, medicine and surgical supplies. He said crews were trying to fly out five to seven kidney failure patients from Abaco who had not received dialysis since Friday.