Emergency responders staged overnight search-and-rescue operations on the island of Grand Bahama, but larger-scale efforts remained hampered as nearly stalled Hurricane Dorian continued to pummel the northern Bahamas for a third punishing day.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, the director of the National Emergency Management Association and other senior officials were taking their first flight over the Abacos islands Tuesday to assess the damage.
Authorities said Tuesday that children were among the dead.
“Unfortunately from what we are getting, a few of them were children,” National Security Minister Marvin Dames told The Washington Post. “We’re at the beginning of this and, as you know, this is a very unfortunate occurrence for us as a country.”
Dorian, the most powerful storm ever to hit this nation of 400,000 across more than 700 islands, weakened overnight to a Category 3 and is now a Category 2 storm. But its high winds, rain and tidal storm surge were still worsening a national catastrophe.
The eye of the storm was 45 miles north of Freeport, the nation’s second largest city, with maximum winds of 115 mph. It was grinding forward at 1 mph.
Minnis said Tuesday that relief and rapid assessment teams were standing by to be deployed to Abaco and Grand Bahama as soon as possible.
Fears grew overnight that the initial toll of five confirmed dead and 21 injured announced by Minnis on Monday could grow substantially.
“I caution Bahamians everywhere that chances that we find more persons dead, those chances are real,” Dames said Tuesday. “I can’t see any way out of it.”
On Monday, U.S. Coast Guard helicopters evacuated the injured from the Marsh Harbour clinic on devastated Great Abaco to Nassau for urgent care. The British Royal Navy dispatched an auxiliary aid ship, the RFA Mounts Bay.
The U.S. Agency for International Development said Tuesday that it had deployed a team to work with local authorities, humanitarian organizations, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Embassy to assess damage, identify needs and deliver assistance. USAID said it had begun to mobilize plastic sheeting, hygiene kits, water buckets and chain saws.
On Monday, government officials warned that rescue efforts were being largely suspended until conditions improved. Larger-scale relief operations were being prepared for after the storm passes.
But responders were conducting targeted rescues. On the Facebook page of the Prime Minister’s Office, the government asked people stranded on Grand Bahama, home to Freeport, to send their GPS locations via WhatsApp.
“Freeport gospel chapel multipurpose building,” one user posted.
“Hi stuck by grand central 4way in plz send help holding on to a wall,” posted another.
Dorian’s eyewall, the most powerful part of the storm, spent 38 straight hours on Grand Bahama from Sunday evening to Tuesday morning, according to a review of radar imagery by The Washington Post. That’s equivalent to a strong tornado and a flash flood at the same time, lasting more than a day and a half.
Health Minister Duane Sands described the injured as “children, adults, male, female.”
“Some with very, very serious injuries,” he said. “Some requiring emergency neurosurgery, brain surgery. We’ve had lacerations, partial amputations. We’ve had a number of broken bones.”
Dorian hit the Bahamas on Sunday as a Category 5 hurricane. It tore off roofs and snapped trees in the Abacos islands, flooded towns and ripped up power lines.
The airport in Freeport was reduced to a river of rushing tidewaters.
Tidal surges were projected to reach up to 23 feet above normal, overwhelming low-lying cays and islands. Severe flooding and power and phone outages extended beyond the strike zone to as far south as Nassau, the capital.
Queen Elizabeth, the head of state of the Bahamas, said Tuesday that she was “shocked and saddened to learn of the devastation” caused by the storm.
“We send our sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives,” she said in a statement. She expressed gratitude for the emergency services and volunteers supporting the rescue and recovery.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Jasper Ward, Anthony Faiola