In the Bahamas, Official Hurricane Dorian Death Toll Rises to 45, But Newspaper Says It's in the Thousands

Ron Brackett and Jan Wesner Childs
Published: September 9, 2019

The official death toll in the Bahamas from Hurricane Dorian is 45, but a newspaper in the islands claims the actual number of people killed in the storm is in the thousands.

A statement from the Royal Bahamas Police Force said 45 bodies have been recovered, 37 in Abaco Island and 8 in Grand Bahama Island.

On Monday, the Bahamas Press reported that observers on those two hardest hit islands say more than 3,000 people could have died in the hurricane.

"The numbers are 'staggering' just as the Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands suggested last week. The government though continues to confirm the number to be a mere 43 confirmed victims in one of the deadliest disasters on record in the Bahamas. That number is far much higher," according to the newspaper, which is an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Hubert Minnis and his government.

Bahamian officials have warned that the number of deaths is likely to rise as security forces and other teams search devastated areas of the northern Bahamas.

"The public needs to prepare for unimaginable information about the death toll and the human suffering," Sands told local radio.

Reports from survivors also point to a much higher death toll.

“I’ve seen dead bodies. I’ve seen bodies of people crushed by debris, hanging out [of] windows. It’s not good,” Brian Symonette, who lived on Abaco, told Time magazine. “I’ve seen seven dead bodies under a [shipping] container.…"

Kristoff Strachan, a resident of Grand Bahama, told MSNBC, "We're hearing stories of buses being filled with bodies and body bags. It’s a lot."

In the poor towns of Mudd and Pigeon Peas in Marsh Harbour, home to Haitian laborers, the New York Times counted six bodies in 45 minutes on Sunday. The corpses were pinned under debris. Several men accompanying the Times reporter said they had not seen government teams in the area recovering bodies.

“This area here?” Johnly Pierre said. “Plenty dead.”

Additional morticians, body bags and refrigerated coolers to store bodies were being delivered to Abaco and other affected areas, Sands told Guardian Radio 96.9 FM. The Bahamas Press reported that hundreds of body bags had been ordered.

Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Bahamas' tourism and aviation ministry, told CNN that volunteers with cadaver dogs also have arrived to help with the recovery process. She said they have equipment that will help provide an accurate number of the dead.

Jibrilu said the first priority, however, remains rescuing and evacuating the living.

Rescues and Desperate Efforts to Escape

Over the weekend, hundreds of residents desperate to escape the devastation left by Dorian lined up at airports and ports hoping for a way off the hardest hit islands.

On Abaco Island, some people spent days at the Treasure Cay airport waiting to get a flight.

Matthew Taylor, a resident of Dundas Town, told the Nassau Guardian on Saturday that he had been there since Thursday.

“It’s not been a good experience because it’s not organized,” he said, explaining that it was impossible to remain in his wrecked hometown.

“It’s unlivable. After the water is gone, what do you do? You know, you have bodies contaminating the water and stuff like that, so the water is undrinkable. That’s where the panic is now,” Taylor said.

A line of people waits for evacuation to Nassau at the Port in Marsh Harbour on Abaco Island, on Saturday, September 7, 2019.
(AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

About 30 miles to the south, more than 200 people sweltered under a baking sun at the the Marsh Harbour International Airport, pleading to be taken to New Providence, which is home to the capital city of Nassau.

Hundreds more, many of them Haitian immigrants, waited at the port in hopes of leaving Abaco on vessels arriving with aid, the Associated Press reported. Bahamian security forces were organizing evacuations on a landing craft. Other boats, including yachts and other private craft, were also helping to evacuate people.

On Grand Bahama, where Dorian stalled and scoured the island for 36 hours, scores of residents lined up at the international airport for a chance at leaving on one of the private charter flights bringing in relief supplies, the Guardian reported.

Floyd Smith lived in McLean’s Town on the east end of the island.

“Basically, 95 percent of the houses are gone,” he said. “They’ve been totally demolished. There’s really nothing to check out down there. It’s been wiped out. We can rebuild, but that place has been smashed man. We got about five houses that can be restored.”

Rescue teams are still trying to reach some communities isolated by floodwaters and debris.

Lorenzo McKenzie was one of more than 600 residents of Grand Bahama and Abaco who arrived in New Providence on Saturday morning by mail boat, The Tribune reported.

Destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian is seen from the air in Marsh Harbour on Abaco Island, Bahamas, Saturday, September 7, 2019.
(AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

“People are confused right now, people are confused, people are angry, people are tired," McKenzie said. "We eat everything in this boat [referring to the mail boat] because there wasn’t no food. I had to leave my wife, my children, so many people laying on the ground in the moldy house."

He added, “The water has subsided but people are just trying to recover. It looks like Baghdad, it looks like Desert Storm hit Freeport. Everyone taking their stuff out, throwing it outside, people try to salvage what they had, in Hawksbill it’s totally devastated.”

Government officials said more than 900 members of the Bahamian police and military are on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands to help with hurricane relief. The government also says 120 Jamaican security personnel arrived on Saturday evening and 100 troops from Trinidad and Tobago arrive Sunday as part of the aid effort.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it has rescued 290 people. Six MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters are carrying out search and rescue missions and providing logistical support, while nine cutters are also helping, the Coast Guard said.

AP reported that the U.S. Agency for International Development on Saturday announced $1 million in additional humanitarian assistance, bringing USAID's total funding to more than $2.8 million.

The United Nations said 8 tons of food supplies were to arrive by ship on Saturday. Herve Verhoosel, spokesman for the U.N. World Food Program, said about 14,700 ready-to-eat meals as well as logistical and telecommunications equipment are being delivered.

"The needs remain enormous," Verhoosel said.

The British Royal Navy, American Airlines, the Royal Caribbean cruise line and other organizations have also contributed to the aid effort.

Alannah Vellacott has lived on Grand Bahama all her life.

“The island is suffering extensive damage from flooding,” Vellacott, 29, told USA Today on Saturday afternoon.

“Homes everywhere have been emptied out of their contents. Couches, rugs, curtains, mattresses, even large appliances like fridges, stoves, washers and dryers are in piles in front of the majority of homes.”

“Morale is low as we are still waiting on mass relief and volunteers willing to help us clean up, rebuild, take care of our sick and wounded,” said Vellacott, who is trying to help with relief efforts.

"I am trying my best to get off of the island to buy basic needs and possibly appliances and building materials to bring back home," Vellacott said.


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