ABACO, Bahamas (AP) — Search and rescue teams are still trying to reach some Bahamian communities isolated by floodwaters and debris after Hurricane Dorian, while the official death toll has risen to 43 and is likely to increase even more, top officials said.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said late Friday that 35 were known dead on Abaco Island and eight in Grand Bahama.
“We acknowledge that there are many missing and that the number of deaths is expected to significantly increase,” Minnis said. “This is one of the stark realities we are facing in this hour of darkness.”
Security Minister Marvin Dames said authorities were striving to reach everyone, but the crews can’t just bulldoze their way through fallen trees and other rubble because there might be bodies not yet recovered.
“We have been through this before, but not at this level of devastation,” Dames said. “These are very serious times and very sensitive times.”
Dames expressed understanding for the complaints of people who are calling for help after having their lives shattered by Dorian, but he urged patience for efforts by authorities to get in humanitarian aid.
“Nothing is going to happen overnight. The knee-jerk reaction is always, ‘Let’s get everything all in at once,’ but there’s only so much you can move at any one time, Dames said.
The search for victims and survivors went on five days after Dorian slammed the Bahamas with 185 mph (295 kph) winds that obliterated countless homes.
An array of organizations, countries and companies, including the United Nations, the U.S. government, the British Royal Navy, American Airlines and Royal Caribbean, have mobilized to send in food, water, generators, roof tarps, diapers, flashlights and other supplies. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said the U.S. aid agency has asked the Defense Department to provide heavy-lift cargo planes to fly in supplies.
Dames said the runway at the airport on Grand Bahama island had been cleared and was ready for flights. Authorities also said that all ports had been reopened on that island and Abaco, both of which were devastated by the Category 5 storm.
Hundreds of desperate storm victims gathered Friday at the port on Grand Abaco in hopes of getting off the devastated island amid signs of rising frustration over the pace of the disaster-relief effort.
“It’s chaos here,” Gee Rolle, a construction worker who waited with his wife for a boat that could take them to the capital, Nassau, said. “The government is trying their best, but at the same time, I don’t think they’re doing a good enough job to evacuate the people. It ain’t livable for nobody. Only animals can live here.”
There were no government-organized evacuations yet, but the Royal Bahamas Defense Force helped people board a 139-foot (42-meter) ferry that came to pick up its employees and had room for an additional 160 people. The crowd waited calmly as marines separated women and children to let them board first.
Also, a barge that had dropped off portable toilets and heavy equipment in Abaco carried away about 300 other people to Nassau.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis spoke to the crowd at the port, using a Creole interpreter for a group of Haitians awaiting evacuation. “All of you will be treated with respect,” he assured them.
Minnis said he was satisfied with the speed of the government’s response and told the storm victims, “All I need you to do is just be patient and wait because everybody is coming.”
On Grand Bahama, a long line formed at a cruise ship that had docked to distribute food and water. Among those waiting was Wellisy Taylor, a housewife.
“What we have to do as Bahamians, we have to band together. If your brother needs sugar, you’re going to have to give him sugar. If you need cream, they’ll have to give you cream,” Taylor said. “That’s how I grew up. That’s the Bahamas that I know.”