Hurricane Dorian survivors await relief as teams search for bodies

2019-09-07 12:27

Desperate for food, water and shelter, survivors of Hurricane Dorian, which pulverised the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm, were anxiously awaiting relief on Friday as teams searched through rubble of collapsed homes for bodies.

At least 30 deaths have been reported from the monster storm but hundreds - perhaps thousands - of people are missing and Bahamian officials said the final toll could be "staggering".

Thousands of people were left homeless on the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco and many were becoming frustrated with the speed of relief and evacuation efforts.

"No water, no food," said James Whell of Marsh Harbour, the largest town on Abaco, which had a population of more than 15 000 pre-hurricane and was the hardest-hit island along with nearby Grand Bahama.

"My plan is to leave, find some other place to live," Whell said.

According to UN relief officials, more than 70 000 people - virtually the entire population of Grand Bahama and Abaco - are in need of assistance after the storm reduced homes to matchsticks and destroyed people's livelihoods.

The US Coast Guard and private organisations have been evacuating residents of Abaco and other islands to Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas which is located to the south and was spared the wrath of the hurricane.

The multinational relief effort, which also includes Britain's Royal Navy and several non-governmental organisations, has been hampered by flooding damage to airport runways, destroyed piers and docks and downed communications.

"We're stuck for now," said David Bienami of Marsh Harbour. "We've got plans to move but we don't know when."

The scale of the devastation has left many wondering if Abaco, in particular, can ever be rebuilt.

"Abaco Island is like a ghost town," said Mark Duvinie, a resident of Marsh Harbour. "No electricity, no water, no nothing."

"I honestly believe Abaco is finished," said Thaah Hepburn, another Marsh Harbour resident. "Absolutely everything is gone."

"I don't think people are going to invest anymore because of the devastation," Hepburn said. "It's a chance I don't think people are willing to take."

Haida Guillaume, another Marsh Harbour resident, was slightly more optimistic.

"Nothing is impossible but it will take a long, long time to recover," Guillaume said. "It's 100% devastated all over."

Landfall in Outer Banks

As survivors began the first steps in rebuilding their lives, arrangements were being made to take care of the dead from the storm and the Bahamian authorities were seeking to account for the missing.

Health Minister Duane Sands said extra morticians and refrigerated coolers to store bodies were being sent to the affected islands.

Mortuary workers in white hazmat suits, blue gloves and masks could be seen in Marsh Harbour carrying corpses encased in green body bags and loading them onto flatbed trucks.

Of the eventual death toll, Sands declared: "Let me say that I believe the number will be staggering."

"Literally hundreds, up to thousands, of people are still missing," Joy Jibrilu, the director general of the Bahamian tourism and aviation ministry, told CNN.

David DeSmith, director of marketing for Southworth Development, which owns a private community called the Abaco Club, said the company was worried about some of its employees, most of whom lived in Marsh Harbour.

"Of the 178 employees and contractors who work at the club, we located roughly 100 of them," DeSmith told AFP. "There is still a fairly large number of people unaccounted for.

"We are very worried about them," DeSmith said.

"What little they had was wiped out," he added. "It's a tragedy."

Dorian made landfall meanwhile in the United States as a Category 1 hurricane packing winds of nearly 150km/h.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the storm made landfall at Cape Hatteras on North Carolina's Outer Banks, the finger-like barrier islands off the coast.

Flooding was reported in the town of Ocracoke to the southwest of Cape Hatteras.

Thousands of coastal residents of US states from Florida to Virginia had been fearing the worst from the powerful storm but the East Coast largely escaped unscathed.

Some flooding occurred in the historic city of Charleston, South Carolina, and tens of thousands of residents lost electricity but no major damage was reported.

At 14:00 (18:00 GMT), the NHC said Dorian was moving in a north-easterly direction up the Atlantic coast at 34km/h.

It said Dorian was expected to weaken as it goes up the coast and the centre of the storm should move to the southeast of New England on Friday night and across Nova Scotia late on Saturday.

Canadian authorities issued a hurricane warning for Prince Edward Island and southwestern Nova Scotia.

Read more on:    us  |  weather  |  hurricane dorian
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