United Nations and Red Cross relief officials rushed to deal with an unfolding humanitarian crisis in the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian on Tuesday after the most powerful storm ever to hit the islands devastated homes, crippled hospitals and left thousands in need of food and water.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said at least seven people had been killed, with the full scope of the disaster on the tourism-dependent islands still unknown.
Emergency assistance including a Royal Navy ship carrying food supplies was already being deployed, he added.
Rescuers were focusing on the battered Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.
“It’s total devastation. It’s decimated. Apocalyptic,” said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a local hurricane relief organization and flew over the Abaco Islands.
Head-Rigby said her representative on Abaco told her that there were “a lot more dead” and that the bodies were being gathered.
Looming over the Bahamas for a day and a half, Dorian pounded the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama with winds up to 185 mph (295km/h) and torrential rain before finally moving into open waters on a course for Florida. Its winds slowed to a still-dangerous 110 mph (175km/h).
More than two million people along the coast in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina were warned to leave. While the threat of a direct hit on Florida has largely evaporated, Dorian was expected to pass dangerously close to Georgia and South Carolina – and perhaps strike North Carolina – on Thursday or Friday.
Homes, drinking water destroyed
In the Bahamas, Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said more than 13,000 houses, or about 45 percent of the homes in Grand Bahama and Abaco, were believed to have been severely damaged or destroyed.
Moreover, UN officials said more than 60,000 people on the hard-hit islands needed food, and the Red Cross said some 62,000 needed clean drinking water.
“What we are hearing lends credence to the fact that this has been a catastrophic storm and a catastrophic impact,” he said.
Theo Neilly, the Bahamian Consul General in Washington, DC, said authorities “have not been able to assess the damages on Grand Bahama Island just yet. We expect it to be very devastating and the damage to be extreme.”
In brief, Dorian was tied with Gilbert (1988), Wilma (2005) and the 1935 Labor Day hurricane for the second-strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, based on maximum sustained winds. Allen in 1980 was the most powerful, with 190-mile (306 km/h) winds