At least five Bahamian citizens have been confirmed dead after Hurricane Dorian made its way through the Bahamas between Sunday and Monday.
Speaking at a press conference at the country’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) headquarters in Nassau, New Providence, Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis revealed the provisional fatality toll for Abaco Islands—a small chain of islands to the north of the archipelago state where the hurricane first made landfall.
While Minnis and government officials were hopeful the death toll would not rise dramatically, it appears likely as local first responders had still not been able to access the islands due to weather conditions associated with the slow-moving Category Four hurricane, which was moving at a snail’s pace over Grand Bahama Island up to late Monday.
Minnis confirmed, however, that United States Coast Guard personnel were able to get access to the Abacos Islands and provide some relief to injured residents. Critically injured persons were taken to the Princess Margaret Hospital in New Providence, which experienced flooding and other damage from the hurricane but was not subject to the brunt of its force. Over 20,000 people inhabit the region.
“The initial reports from Abaco is that the devastation is unprecedented and extensive. They are deeply worrying,” Minnis said.
He said the majority of the houses and buildings on the territory were either partially or completely destroyed by Dorian, which is being labelled the second strongest land-fall hurricane on record, with winds well in excess of 157 mph or 252 km/h and storm surges up to 23 feet above normal tide level.
During his brief address, Minnis admitted that numerous regional and international countries and relief agencies had contacted him to offer assistance. He said his government would waive customs duties and VAT on all relief items imported into the country over the next few months. The items include medicine and medical supplies, electrical generators, tents, cots, bedding material and mosquito netting.
Minnis also called on Bahamians who lived on islands which were not devastated by the hurricane to assist their compatriots.
“As Bahamians, we must unite with the singular focus of helping our brothers and sisters in need. Due to the extent of the devastation, when weather permits, those on islands not devastated by this monster storm should open their homes to friends and family,” Minnis said.
In a press release yesterday evening, T&T Communication Minister Donna Cox said Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley had already offered assistance to Minnis.
“He said as has happened in the past, this country will demonstrate its compassion and willingness to help its Caricom neighbour,” Cox said.
However, she noted that Rowley did not quantify the assistance being offered as Bahamian and regional disaster relief organisations are yet to go into the affected islands to assess damage and loss of life.
“The Prime Minister is awaiting the passage of Dorian to find out what kind of support T&T will provide to help the Bahamas cope,” Cox said.
Rowley’s offer came as several regional and international countries, as well as international charities and NGOs, pledged support to the relief efforts.
Dominica, which is still recovering after being devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, pledged US$100,000.
Like with other regional natural disasters, several local NGOs have already begun their own relief operations.
The T&T Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA)’ in conjunction with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, yesterday released an advertisement calling on its members and citizens to donate canned food, medical supplies, baby supplies, water, clothing and money to its hurricane relief drive.
Although Bahamian relief personnel and their foreign counterparts were unable to reach the Abaco Islands to do an extensive assessment, up to late yesterday they and persons around the world were given a glimpse by residents who had posted live videos on social media using the cellphone network, which managed to withstand the hurricane’s wraith.
The harrowing videos depicted persons praying and begging for assistance, as waves of flood-waters caused by heavy rainfall and storm surges crashed against their houses and covered low-lying structures. Others showed the roofs of houses and trees being blown away in the strong winds.
In one video, Bahamas Agriculture Minister Michael Pintard recorded a wave of water smashing into the glass windows of an already flooded home on Grand Bahama Island.
“That’s my kitchen window that water is hitting and that has to be a minimum of about 20 feet above the ground,” Pintard said in the caption for the video.
Several Bahamians directly affected by the hurricane spoke to television host Hema Ramkissoon on CNC3’s Morning Brew programme yesterday and related their harrowing experiences.
Juanita Outten, of Abaco Islands, said her family, which includes four toddlers, was forced to flee their home after the roof was lifted off on Sunday night.
Outten and her family sought refuge at a neighbour’s house and had not been able to leave up until the time of the interview.
“We are going to wait until the sun comes up to see if we can go outside and assess. Material things can be replaced but I really hope everyone is safe,” Outten said.
Kristoff Strachan, of Freeport, Grand Bahama Island, said the hurricane was the worst the country had ever experienced.
“I know what happened three years ago with Hurricane Matthew and that was not even as strong as Dorian,” Strachan said.
While he admitted that the Bahamas has strict building codes because of hurricanes, Strachan said buildings were only built to withstand 150 mph winds.
In his interview, Bahamian Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar admitted the country could not fully prepare for such a strong hurricane.
“I don’t think any government in the Bahamas has had to contend with a catastrophe of such epic proportions,” D’Aguilar said.
He admitted some airports on the affected islands were forced to close even after the hurricane had passed as their runaways remained flooded.
Up to late yesterday, ZNS TV, Bahamas’ national television station, was helping to identify survivors and those in need of assistance by taking their calls in a live programme which ran for the entire day.