Bahamas Death Toll Rises to 20 After Devastating Hurricane Dorian Hits Island Nation

Volunteers rescue several families that arrived on small boats from the rising waters of Hurricane Dorian, near the Causarina bridge in Freeport, Grand Bahama [Ramon Espinosa/AP Photo]

As Bahamas begins clean up, Dorian strengthens again as it bears down on coastal areas of southeastern United States

Survivors of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas picked through the wreckage of homes ripped apart by fierce winds, struggled to fuel generators and queued for food on Wednesday, as Dorian bore down on coastal communities in the southeastern United States and regained intensity.

The most damaging storm ever to strike the island nation, Dorian killed at least 20 people, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis confirmed on Wednesday, reiterating that more fatalities were expected.

Aerial footage of affected areas revealed widespread devastation. The US Coast Guard and Britain’s Royal Navy airlifted survivors and ferried in emergency supplies as the flood waters receded, and the United Nations said 70,000 people on Grand Bahama and Abaco islands were in “immediate need” of aid.

Mark Lowcock, the United Nations under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said in a conference call with reporters that he expected the death toll to rise significantly.

In the US the state of South Carolina was preparing for a record storm surge and major flooding with the potential for more than a metre of rain in places when Dorian makes landfall.

Late on Wednesday, the US National Hurricane Center upgraded the storm, which had been weakening after leaving the Bahamas, to a major Category 3. It had earlier been downgraded to Category 2.

Dozens of people in the Bahamas took to Facebook to search for missing loved ones.

“We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history,” Minnis told a news conference.

“We can expect more deaths to be recorded. This is just preliminary information.”

LaQuez Williams, a 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.”

Aerial video of Great Abaco Island showed miles of flooded neighbourhoods littered with upturned boats and shipping containers scattered like toys. Many buildings had walls or roofs partly ripped off.

A Reuters photographer surveying the damage on Grand Bahama island said many hangars at Freeport airport and several aircraft appeared to be severely damaged.

‘Something no one could prepare for’

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.

Janith Mullings, 66, from Freeport, Grand Bahama, said she had been through hurricanes all her life but had never seen anything like Dorian.

“We’ve never had hurricanes in none of our islands that have experienced the ocean rising like it did. The ocean was something no one could prepare for,” she said.

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SOURCE: Al Jazeera / Reuters