Residents look through debris after Hurricane Dorian hit Grand Bahama Island on September 4. Photo credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper.
MARSH HARBOUR, The Bahamas--Survivors of Hurricane Dorian on Wednesday picked through the wreckage of homes ripped open by fierce winds, struggled to fuel generators and queued for food after one of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record devastated parts of the Bahamas.
The most damaging storm ever to strike the island nation, Dorian killed at least seven people, but the scope of the destruction and a humanitarian crisis was still coming into focus as aerial video of the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas showed wide devastation.
In the United States, South Carolina was preparing on Wednesday for a record storm surge and major flooding when Dorian hits the coast today, Thursday, or Friday.
Dozens of people in the Bahamas took to Facebook to search for missing loved ones, and aid agencies estimated that tens of thousands of people out of the Bahamas population of 400,000 would need food and other support.
“We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history,” Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told a news conference. “We can expect more deaths to be recorded. This is just preliminary information.”
LaQuez Williams, pastor at Jubilee Cathedral in Grand Bahama, opened the church as a shelter for about 150 people. As the storm ground on, Williams said that from the higher ground of the church he could see people on their rooftops seeking refuge.
“They were calling for help, but you could not go out to reach,” Williams said. “It was very difficult because you felt helpless.”
Aerial video of Great Abaco Island showed miles of flooded neighbourhoods littered with upturned boats and shipping containers scattered like toys. Many buildings had walls or roofs partly ripped off.
“Victims are being loaded on flatbed trucks across Abaco,” one Twitter user with the handle @mvp242 said, describing a rain-blurred photograph of limp bodies strewn across a truck bed.
Other posts on Twitter said entire communities had been swept away. Photographs from the airport at Freeport showed a light plane torn in two, with hangars badly damaged and scattered debris.
After rampaging through the Caribbean as one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded, Dorian’s wind speeds dropped on Tuesday to make it a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale. It maintained that level on Wednesday, but forecasters warned it was still dangerous as it approached the southeastern coast of the United States.
US President Donald Trump said the US was sending supplies to the Bahamas, including materials that had been originally intended for Dorian victims in Florida.
“We’re having a lot of food brought in ... We’re taking some of the supplies from some other places, including Florida, where we didn’t have to use them, and we’re going to be bringing them over to the Bahamas, where they really need it very badly, because that was a very hard hit,” Trump said.
With many telephones down on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, residents posted lists of missing loved ones on social media sites.
A single Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas seeking the names of missing people had 2,000 comments listing lost family members since it went live on Tuesday, although some of the comments were also about loved ones being found.
Janith Mullings (66) from Freeport, Grand Bahama, said she had been through hurricanes all her life but had never seen anything like Dorian.
“We’ve never had hurricanes in none of our islands that have experienced the ocean rising like it did. The ocean was something no one could prepare for,” she said.
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.
“It’s heartbreaking ...,” said Caroline Turnquest, director general of the Bahamas Red Cross. “We know from what we’ve been seeing and hearing, that this one will require the help of all the persons.”
Food may be required for 14,500 people in the Abaco Islands and for 45,700 people in Grand Bahama, the UN World Food Programme said.
The US State Department said it did not believe any US citizens who were in the Bahamas, a popular tourist destination, during the storm were killed.
US Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection personnel have airlifted 61 people from the northern Bahamas to the capital Nassau over two days, the US Embassy said. ~ Reuters ~