NASSAU: Survivors of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas on Wednesday thronged rescue helicopters as the United Nations said 70,000 people needed immediate humanitarian relief after one of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record devastated the island group.
The most damaging storm to strike the island nation, Dorian killed at least 20 people, the Miami Herald reported, citing Bahamas Health Minister Duane Sands. But the toll was certain to rise as the scope of the destruction and the humanitarian crisis was still coming into focus with aerial video of the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas showing wide devastation.
Mark Lowcock, United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said in a conference call from the Bahamas that around 70,000 people needed food, shelter and medical assistance. "There is concern that some whole communities` locations have been destroyed or are underwater or washed away," he said. "One of the uncertainties is where the people who were living there are now and how to reach them."
In the United States, South Carolina was preparing for a record storm surge and major flooding with the potential for over a foot of rain in places when Dorian hits the coast on Thursday or Friday. Dozens of people in the Bahamas, with a population of about 400,000, took to Facebook seeking information about missing loved ones, and one aid worker described an apocalyptic level of destruction on Great Abaco Island.
"There is no coordination, no communication, and things are going to get worse if that continues,” said Tricia Wesolek, 46, a medic with the rescue group Acute Air Ambulance, after her helicopter was met by crowds seeking medical help on the island. Most of those seeking aid were mothers with babies.
“What am I going to do, give the babies a bottle and send them on their way?” she said, suggesting the whole island should be evacuated. LaQuez Williams, pastor at Jubilee Cathedral in Grand Bahama, who opened the church as a shelter for about 150 people, said he saw people on their rooftops seeking refuge.
"They were calling for help, but you could not go out to reach," Williams said. "It was very difficult because you felt helpless." A Reuters photographer surveying the damage on Grand Bahama island said many hangers at Freeport airport and several aircraft appeared to be severely damaged.
DORIAN COULD STRENGTHEN
Dorian rampaged through the Caribbean as one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded, killing one person in Puerto Rico, before hovering over the Bahamas for two days with torrential rains and fierce winds that whipped up 12-18 foot (3.7 to 5.5 metre) storm surges in places. Dorian was about 150 miles (240 km) south of Charleston at 5 p.m. EST, packing winds of 110 mph, making it a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its 5 p.m. (2100 GMT) advisory.
But it could strengthen again to a Category 4 in the next 24 hours because it is hovering over warm waters, a key ingredient in hurricane intensity, NHC meteorologist Lance Wood said. The NHC issued a storm surge warning that covered the whole length of the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina and extending to Hampton Roads in Virginia.
The NHC warned that Dorian would move near or over the coast of South or North Carolina on Thursday or Friday. More than 2.2 million people in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina have been ordered to evacuate. Florida avoided a direct hit from Dorian.
President Donald Trump said the United States was sending supplies to the Bahamas, including materials that had been originally intended for Dorian victims in Florida.
With many telephones down on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, residents posted lists of missing loved ones on social media sites. A single Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas seeking the names of missing people had 2,000 comments listing lost family members since it went live on Tuesday, although some of the comments were also about loved ones being found.
A massive relief effort was under way with volunteers ferrying supplies to the islands in a flotilla of small boats. As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.
The State Department said it did not believe any US citizens who were in the Bahamas, a popular tourist destination, during the storm were killed.