By NICK BROWN
Friday, September 6, 2019
An international relief effort gathered pace on Thursday to help stunned residents of the Bahamas, where the Health Minister predicted a "staggering" death toll from Hurricane Dorian, now churning northward off the coast of South Carolina.
Aerial video of the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas worst hit by the thenCategory 5 hurricane showed widespread devastation, with the harbour, shops, workplaces, a hospital and airport landing strips damaged or decimated.
The death toll from Dorian was officially 30 while authorities continued to retrieve and register bodies, Health Minister Duane Sands told local media. But he said the final toll would be far higher.
"Let me say that I believe the number will be staggering," he was quoted by The Nassau Guardian as telling Guardian radio. "... I have never lived through anything like this and I don't want to live through anything like this again."
Dr. Sands said he has asked for help from the World Health Organization and others. The United Nations has estimated more than 76,000 people were in need of humanitarian relief after the most damaging storm ever to hit the island country.
The family of a woman from Windsor, Ont., says she has died in the Bahamas as a result of Hurricane Dorian. A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money to bring the body of Alishia Sabrina Liolli, 27, back to Canada.
The organizer says extra funds will be donated to help rebuild the school she worked at in the Bahamas. Ms. Liolli moved to the Bahamas in 2013 to volunteer at Every Child Counts, a vocational school that helps children with autism.
She later helped build a new school with the organization and has since been running the program that helps adults with autism.
Hours before Dorian pounded the Bahamas and obliterated entire neighbourhoods, Ms. Liolli asked her friends and loved ones on social media to pray for her family and the small island she called home.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't terrified; but the dogs, chickens, husband & children are inside and everything is batted down the best we could!" she wrote on Facebook at 11:42 p.m. on Saturday, just before the full thrust of the storm hit. "I love you all - please pray for our Bahamasland, especially our Abaco. We will keep everyone updated as best we can!"
On Thursday, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it was organizing an airlift from Panama of storage units, generators and prefab offices for two logistics hubs, as well as satellite equipment for emergency responders, and has bought eight metric tonnes of ready-to-eat meals.
The UN agency has allocated US$5.4-million to a three-month emergency operation to support 39,000 people, said Hervé Verhoosel, senior WFP spokesperson.
"In a first phase, WFP will focus on the immediate procurement and distribution of up to 85 MT of ready-to-eat meals for the most affected communities," Mr. Verhoosel said.
A flight from the U.S. Agency for International Development landed early on Thursday with enough relief supplies to help 31,500 people, bringing hygiene kits, water containers and buckets, plastic sheeting and chain saws.
Also arriving was a disaster assistance response teamplane that included a fire and rescue team to help in the search for survivors, USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance said on Twitter.
Total insured and uninsured losses in the Bahamas amounted to US$7-billion, including buildings and business interruptions, according to a preliminary estimate by Karen Clark & Co., a consultancy that provides catastrophic modelling and risk management services.
With telephones down in many areas, residents posted lists of missing loved ones on social media. One Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas had 2,500 comments, mainly listing lost family members.
One survivor on the Abaco Islands, Ramond King, said he watched as swirling winds ripped the roof off his house, then churned to a neighbour's home to pluck the entire structure into the sky.
"'This can't be real, this can't be real,' " Mr. King recalled thinking. "Nothing is here, nothing at all. Everything is gone, just bodies."
Canadian forecasters say the storm system is expected to severely affect parts of the Atlantic provinces this weekend.
The Canadian Hurricane Centre says the most likely track projection brings Dorian south of the Atlantic provinces on Saturday, pushing through eastern Nova Scotia late in the day.
The forecast calls for severe winds and rainfall to have major effects for southeastern New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, western Newfoundland and Quebec's Lower North Shore, with a chance of a storm surge that may affect parts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
Most regions will experience some tropical storm force winds, with wind speeds that could reach hurricane force to the south of the forecast track and the possibility of hurricane force northwesterly winds behind the storm.
The Netherlands' ambassador to the United Nations tweeted the country was sending two naval ships with supplies from St. Maarten, a Dutch island about 1,770 kilometres southeast of the Bahamas.
A British Royal Navy vessel was providing assistance, and Jamaica was sending a 150-member military contingent to help secure Abaco and Grand Bahama, officials said. Volunteers also ferried supplies to the islands in a flotilla of small boats.
Cruise lines responded as well.
The Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line said it would transport first responders, medics and journalists for free to Freeport on Thursday, returning to Florida on Friday with any Bahamians who have documents to enter the United States. "It's a humanitarian trip.
We're also taking donations that have arrived in the port [in Palm Beach]," said Francisco Sanchez, a sales representative for the cruise line.
Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas said it was delivering 10,000 meals of chicken, rice and fruit to Grand Bahama.
Dorian killed one person in Puerto Rico before hovering over the Bahamas for two days with torrential rains and fierce winds that whipped up 3.7- to 5.5-metre storm surges.
On Thursday, the storm was barrelling north-northeast just off the southeastern U.S. coast, moving at about 11 km an hour, with maximum sustained winds fluctuating between 175 and 185 km/h, between a Category 2 and Category 3 storm.
The storm was about 80 km east-southeast of flood-prone Charleston, S.C., at 11:30 a.m. ET, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
REUTERS, WITH FILES FROM THE CANADIAN PRESS
Women walk through rubble in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in Great Abaco on Tuesday.
A flooded parking lot in the Abaco Islands is seen on Wednesday. Total insured and uninsured losses in the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian amount to US$7-billion.
Dorian's aftermath in the Bahamas is seen from a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter on Wednesday.
ERIK VILLA RODRIGUEZ/ AFP/GETTY IMAGES
A man surveys damage on Tuesday in Great Abaco Island, among the areas of the Bahamas worst hit by Hurricane Dorian.
Women embrace in Nassau on Wednesday after one was rescued from the Abaco Islands.
JOSE JIMENEZ/ GETTY IMAGES