As the official death toll in the Bahamas rises each day, reported at 50 as of Sept. 9, traumatized citizens of the Caribbean island nation, along with allies and volunteers from around the world, continue the painfully slow process of recovering and rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian and the devastating impact it caused.
Bahamians have joined hands to help the thousands left helpless, providing food, water and shelter for the legion of people homeless and with few, if any, personal possessions.
Bahamian government officials say U.S. Coast Guard helicopters have been flying across the string of barrier islands looking for survivors while on the ground, members of the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, police officers, coroners, investigators and search and rescue teams continue to scour Abaco and other islands in the north of the archipelago, aiding the injured and removing the bodies of the deceased.
Some bodies have already been transported to Rand Memorial Hospital in Nassau with and others placed temporarily in refrigerated trucks.
“We acknowledge that there are many missing and the number of deaths is expected to significantly increase,” said Bahamas Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis in a Sept. 6 statement.
“This is one of the stark realities we face in this hour of darkness,” he said. “The loss of life we’re experiencing is catastrophic and devastating. The grief we bear as a country begins with families who have lost loved ones. We meet them in this time of sorrow with open arms and walk by their sides every step of the way.”
Across social media, people watched videos, viewed photographs illustrating the utter devastation wreaked by the hurricane. One video by an unnamed member of parliament showed parts of his flooded house – dark water lapping against his living room and kitchen windows nearly 20 feet above the ground.
Thousands of people have been displaced and remain trapped in “rapidly deteriorating” conditions in the most devastated areas of the Bahamas, said an official of the UN’s World Food Program on Saturday. Charity and aid organizations have been rushing emergency aid and supplies, workers and money to the storm-battered islands but the effort has been hampered by the sheer size of the affected areas and a raft of logistical problems.
Trump administration officials say the U.S. has sent a Disaster Assistance Response Team to the Bahamas, deployed to work with local authorities, humanitarian organizations and others to assist those affected impacted by the storm, according to a USAID statement. The agency has also begun sending supplies, including plastic sheeting, hygiene kits, water buckets and chainsaws.
In addition, the US Coast Guard has deployed helicopters with both China and Great Britain shipping medicine and relief supplies. Cuba has sent 60 physicians. And with the Bahamian airport rendered inoperable, Royal Caribbean has utilized the seas, delivering 10,000 packaged meals, 43,000 bottles of water, generators and other supplies in partnership with the Bahamian government and the Bahamas Feeding Network. The company has pledged $1 million for hurricane relief.
Famed chef José Andrés remains in Abaco and other outlying areas flying in supplies and provisions and preparing between 10,000 and 15,000 meals a day to needy residents. Meanwhile, in a related development, Hampton University, an Historically-Black university in Virginia, announced that it will provide a free semester to students from the University of the Bahamas who have been displaced by the deadly storm and wish to continue their education without interruption.
One week ago, Hurricane Dorian made landfall, hovering for almost two days over the northern part of the islands and punishing the landmass with 185-mile-an hour winds and gusts of up to 220 miles an hour.
Eyewitnesses report seeing bodies floating in newly-formed waterways. And despite more conservative death tolls shared by government officials in the double digits, it’s feared that when the final numbers become available, they will mount in the thousands.
Chris Laville and his wife Indira, who once enjoyed life on Elbow Cay, found themselves unable to escape as Dorian made landfall. He, like other Bahamians, had lived through hurricanes before says, previous storms have been nothing the most recent.
“It was early in the morning. It had rained and there was a light breeze,” Laville told a reporter from the Informer. “I woke saying we could ride this out not knowing what a Category 5 storm was.”
Over the next day and a half, Laville, his wife and nine co-workers learned much a lot more about a hurricane of such massive force. Elbow Key, where they lived, bore the brunt of Hurricane Dorian – the strongest to ever to hit the Caribbean archipelago of 700 islands. On Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, Dorian – which traveled at a glacial pace of one mile per hour – obliterated buildings, tossed boats and other marine vessels far inland, shredded objects in its path, splintered homes and businesses and killed indiscriminately.
“I met everybody running out of the house as the storm took off the roof,” Laville recalled. “I grabbed some things as the roof flew off my room. I looked and saw the veranda was gone, the stairs were gone and the railing taken off. The only thing I could do was jump.”
Laville told his wife to jump, caught her and waited for the rest of the group to do the same. He said he went out several times looking for food and water, towels and a safe space to shelter as those trapped inside were buffeted by fierce winds, driving sand and rain. Often, as he moved around outside, he had to crawl to avoid being swept away by the raging winds.
The group gathered in a laundry room but had to flee when the roof collapsed. After concluding that a nearby shed would be unable to withstand the winds, Laville says he eventually broke a window and he and the rest piled into an abandoned apartment where they rode out the storm. He says he’s never been more afraid in his life and has been left deeply traumatized, adding that should he ever get an inkling that a hurricane’s coming, he’ll be on the first flight out.
Bahamian government officials and the Red Cross estimate that about half of the homes in Abaco and Grand Bahama — between 13,000 and 15,000 – have either been severely damaged or totally destroyed. In addition, the Associated Press and other media report that more than 70,000 residents will need clean drinking water, while the United Nations warns that 60,000 people will need food assistance.
In a press conference on Monday, Sept. 9, President Trump told reporters in the District that the U.S. will be cautious as those in the Bahamas seek refuge in America.
“Everybody needs totally proper documentation,” he said. “The Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there.”
“I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States – including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.”
Trump’s statement and a U.S. immigration policy which remains in limbo only added to the confusion, illustrated clearly last weekend when 119 people from the Bahamas were forced to vacate a ferry bound for Florida after officials determined that they lacked the necessary U.S. travel visas.
Many residents in the Bahamas have family ties to Florida. So far, about 4,000 Bahamians have reportedly arrived since the hurricane, both by air or sea, according to Diane Sabatino, head of the Customs and Border Protection office in Miami.