The death toll from devastating Hurricane Dorian will be ‘staggering’ with thousands still missing, officials have warned amid reports looters are ‘trying to shoot people’ in the scramble for food and water.
Up to 70,000 are in need of ‘life-saving assistance’ while Great Abaco is said to be virtually uninhabitable, with bodies piled up and witnesses say there is a ‘smell of death’ and bodies floating in the water.
While the official death toll stands at 30, that number is expected to rise today and hundreds of body bags have been ordered.
A massive international relief effort was ramped up today as survivors revealed horrifying details of the aftermath of the 185mph, Category-5 storm.
One of them, Alicia Cooke, broke down in tears as she revealed: ‘Everything is gone, people are starting to panic. Pillaging, looting, trying to shoot people for food and water. It’s just no way everyone’s going to get out.’
‘No homes. No banks. No gas stations. No hardware stores. Everything is gone,’ she added.
Desperate attempts are being made to evacuate people to the capital in Nassau, but efforts have been complicated by flooded runways at Grand Bahama International Airport.
Addressing fears the death toll from the disaster will climb, Health Minister Duane Sands warned: ‘Let me say that I believe the number will be staggering.’
Some locals called the government’s initial official death toll a tragic underestimate.
‘You smell the decomposing bodies as you walk through Marsh Harbour,’ said Sandra Sweeting, 37, in an interview amid the wreckage on Great Abaco. ‘It’s everywhere. There are a lot of people who aren’t going to make it off this island.’
‘I work part-time in a funeral home, I know what death smells like,’ said Anthony Thompson, 27. ‘There must be hundreds. Hundreds.’
Extra security has been deployed with witnesses seeing residents breaking into liquor stores and supermarkets, carrying off goods in bags or filling their vehicles. Local militias have been formed to clamp down on the widespread looting.
The Minister of National Security was deployed to Abaco yesterday to establish order amid reports of looting. The island has been rendered uninhabitable by the storm.
The storm struck the island chain as a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane on Sunday and stalled over Abaco and Grand Bahama for the following two days as 185mph winds and torrential rains ravaged countless communities.
There is not yet a government evacuation effort but Royal Navy ships and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force have offered a few spaces on some of their ships.
Hundreds of people have turned up at the docks carrying bits of scavenged possessions in duffel bags piled in shopping carts.
‘It’s going to get crazy soon,’ said Serge Simon, 39, who drives an ice truck and was waiting with his wife and two sons, aged five months old and four, at the port. ‘There’s no food, no water. There are bodies in the water. People are going to start getting sick.
A few hundred people sat at the partly flooded Leonard M. Thompson airport on Abaco island Thursday as small planes picked up the most vulnerable survivors, including the sick and the elderly.
The evacuation was slow and there was frustration for some who said they had nowhere to go after the Category five hurricane splintered whole neighborhoods.
‘They told us that the babies, the pregnant people and the elderly people were supposed to be first preference,’ said Lukya Thompson, a 23-year-old bartender. But many were still waiting, she said.
Despite hardship and uncertainty, those at the airport were mostly calm. The Bahamian health ministry said helicopters and boats were on the way to help people in affected areas, though officials warned of delays because of severe flooding and limited access.
At least 30 people died in the hurricane and the number could be ‘significantly higher,’ Bahamian health minister Duane Sands told The Associated Press in a telephone interview late Thursday. The victims are from Abaco and Grand Bahama islands and include some who died from injuries after being flown to New Providence island, he said.
The hurricane hit Abaco on Sunday and then hovered over Grand Bahama for a day and a half.
On Thursday, emergency officials fanned out across stricken areas to track down people who were missing or in distress. Crews began clearing streets and setting up aid distribution centers.
The United Nations announced the purchase of eight tons of ready-to-eat meals and said it will provide satellite communications equipment and airlift storage units, generators and prefab offices to set up logistics hubs. U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said about 70,000 people ‘are in immediate need of life-saving assistance’ on Grand Bahama and Abaco.
A British Royal Navy ship docked at Abaco and distributed supplies to hurricane survivors. On Grand Bahama, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship dropped off 10,000 meals, 10,000 bottles of water and more than 180 generators, as well as diapers and flashlights.
American Airlines said it flew a Boeing 737 from Miami to Nassau to drop off 14,000 pounds of relief supplies. The airline is also giving frequent-flyer points to customers who donate at least $25 to the Red Cross.
Troops from the Rhode Island National Guard will be heading to the Bahamas to help. The Guard will mobilize three C-130J cargo aircraft that will depart from the Quonset Air National Guard Base on Friday, state officials said
Some dazed survivors of Hurricane Dorian made their way back to a shantytown where they used to live, hoping to gather up some of their soggy belongings.
The community was known as The Mudd – or ‘Da Mudd,’ as it’s often pronounced – and it was built by thousands of Haitian migrants over decades. It was razed in a matter of hours by Dorian, which reduced it to piles of splintered plywood and two-by-fours 4 and 5 feet deep, spread over an area equal to several football fields.
A helicopter buzzed overhead as people picked through the debris, avoiding a body that lay tangled underneath a tree branch next to twisted sheets of corrugated metal, its hands stretched toward the sky. It was one of at least nine bodies that people said they had seen in the area.
‘Ain’t nobody come to get them,’ said Cardot Ked, a 43-year-old carpenter from Haiti who has lived 25 years in Abaco. ‘If we could get to the next island, that’s the best thing we can do.’
Ked was one of thousands of desperate people seeking help in Dorian’s aftermath. Crews in Grand Bahama worked to reopen the airport and used heavy equipment to pick up branches and palm fronds. Lines formed outside gas stations and grocery stores.
‘People will be out of jobs for months,’ 67-year-old wood carver Gordon Higgs lamented. ‘They’ll be homeless, no food. Nothing.’
Total property losses, not including infrastructure and autos, could reach $7 billion, the firm Karen Clark & Co. estimated.
On Thursday, medical officials moved hundreds of people left homeless by the storm out of the main hospital in Abaco to shelters in schools and other government buildings. Some were angry at being asked to leave, or at not being allowed to freely enter to visit hurt relatives, and a shouting match erupted at the main door between a small group of hurricane victims and Bahamas marines.
Abaco and Grand Bahama islands are known for their marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts and are home to many fishermen, laborers and hotel workers.
At the Leonard M. Thompson airport, Rashad Reckley, a 30-year-old saxophonist, played the Bob Marley song ‘Three Little Birds’ for people who had lost their homes.
‘I want to lift up everybody’s spirits after all the tragedy that happened,’ said Reckley, who said he had exhausted his repertoire after playing for hours.
‘They want me to play more,’ Reckley said. ‘But I can’t think of songs to play.’
‘All the main buildings, gone. It’s gone. Everything is gone,’ Robert Cornea, who has lived in Abaco for more than 50 years with his wife Phyllis, told CBS News.
The couple have been homeless since Sunday.
‘Take a picture of me because it’s all I have left, what you see me in,’ Phyllis Cornea said from the wreckage of her home.
‘This is our Katrina moment,’ Bahamian Health Minister Duane Sands said Thursday.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Dorian left ‘generational devastation’ and asked for prayers for the thousands of families affected.
The Bahamian government sent hundreds of police and marines into the stricken islands, along with doctors, nurses and other health care workers.
The US Coast Guard, Britain’s Royal Navy and relief organizations including the UN 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.
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SOURCE: Daily Mail, Ryan Fahey, Sophie Tano, Megan Sheets, Lauren Fruen