NASSAU, Bahamas – The death toll in the Bahamas rose to at least 20 on Wednesday as the catastrophic damage left behind by Hurricane Dorian came into sharper focus and the world mobilized to help the shattered islands.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis confirmed that the death toll had spiked as emergency workers continued to assess the damage of the Category 5 monster, but he warned that “we expect this number will increase.”
At the airport in Nassau, residents desperate to recover loved ones trapped on Great Abaco and Grand Bahama, search-and-rescue teams and aid groups organizing shipments of relief supplies to the devastated islands gathered to help the government of the Bahamas begin the long road to recovery.
Gary Smith, 69, was evacuated to Nassau from Marsh Harbor in Abaco on Wednesday. He and his wife were trapped in their home as Dorian roared overhead. When he finally emerged, the destruction was hard to comprehend.
“Every church on the strip – nine of them – were destroyed,” he said, adding that only two of the structures were even partially standing. “All the churches are gone.”
But he was one of the lucky ones. One of his neighbors died of a heart attack during the storm.
Smith said the power of the hurricane was impossible to describe. “No one on earth has seen anything like that,” he said.
Bahamas Health Minister Duane Sands initially said there were 17 deaths in Abaco and three in Grand Bahama, but Minnis said it was premature to provide an island-by-island breakdown.
Minnis also spent the day talking to foreign leaders, including President Donald Trump. He thanked Washington for helping with the recovery, including sending in the U.S. Coast Guard.
“Donald Trump was delighted that the hurricane damage was confined to two islands as opposed to the entire Bahamas,” Minnis said. And he said it was important for the global community to know that much of the Bahamas is intact and functioning.
“One of the best ways people around the world can show their support and solidarity at this time is to visit our islands by flight or cruise ship,” he said. “The Bahamas is still open for business.”
In South Florida, individuals and charities launched collections of food, water and hygiene kits while others began to prepare for the long rebuilding effort ahead. And in Tallahassee, Fla., and Washington, D.C., elected officials from both major parties initiated calls for the Trump administration to loosen immigration requirements for Bahamians fleeing the devastation to enter the United States more easily.
But as international governments and aid groups marshaled at the airport in Nassau, many in the Bahamas’ northwestern islands remained stranded and in need of food, water and shelter.
Sandra Cooke was in Nassau waiting for her sister-in-law to be medically evacuated from Marsh Harbor, the capital of Great Abaco, which took the brunt of Dorian’s destructive force.
“My brother’s roof collapsed on her and trapped her for 17 hours,” Cooke said of her sister-in-law. “He wrapped her in a shower curtain ... She can’t walk.”
Cooke said the family had hired a private helicopter service to evacuate her Thursday, and her sister-in-law was taken to the hospital with a broken hip.
Although all airports remain waterlogged and partially flooded in the northern part of Abaco Island, the first fixed-wing aircraft were starting to take aid workers and provisions to the area.
But many Bahamians trying to get home were barred from flying.
Lowree Tynes 36, and Daynan Tynes, 44, from the Abaco Islands, spent the day trying to catch a flight home to evacuate about 10 children trapped around Marsh Harbour. The kids belong to family and friends who weren’t able to get off the island before Dorian made landfall on Sunday with sustained winds of 185 mph and a storm surge two-stories high, making it the most powerful hurricane on record ever to hit the island.
Communications are spotty, so the Tyneses have only been receiving cryptic, bare bones text messages.
“House is gone.”
They have also received coordinates of where they hope to find the children. In some cases, those locations have changed five or six times – a sign, they fear, that people are fleeing from one precarious shelter to another.
The couple, who run a construction company and design studio in Marsh Harbour, have helped many of their clients over the years build hurricane-resistant homes. But Dorian was different.
“There was no way to prepare for this,” Lowree Tynes said.
Four days after the hurricane hit, the couple also fear that their isolated family and friends are likely growing desperate.
“People stock up on food and water for two or three days,” Daynan Tynes said. “But there was no way they could have planned for this long.”
The Tynes family said they do not know the condition of their own home, cars and business on Abaco, but they are prepared for the worst.