Bahamas’ neighbors pitch in to help

Bert Wilkinson | 9/12/2019, 3:09 p.m.
International aid organizations and authorities in The Bahamas are stepping up the evacuation of people from Grand Bahama and Abaco, ...
CBP Air and Marine Operations agents conduct search and rescue operations in Abaco Island and Marsh Harbour Bahamas on Sept. 5, 2019. The islands were devastated by Hurricane Dorian. CBP Photo Kris Grogan

International aid organizations and authorities in The Bahamas are stepping up the evacuation of people from Grand Bahama and Abaco, which were flattened by a slow-moving Hurricane Dorian in the past week, as authorities prepared islanders for a steep rise in the death toll as searches of the rubble continued.

The national emergency agency said that as of early Monday, Sept. 9, close to 4,000 people had been sea- and air-lifted from the two islands to New Providence. Delta, Western Air, Trans Island Airways, state-owned Bahamasair and a number of ferryboats and private operators have all pitched in to move people from the two devastated islands in recent days.

“The number of persons presenting themselves for evacuation is diminishing,” said NEMA Director Stephen Russel. “Our estimated number of persons in Abaco in need of food and water and temporary housing is about 7,000 to 10,000 persons. Our desire is to get as many people out of the island at this time until we can sanitize the whole area from debris and deceased carcasses of animals and other persons that may be in the community. Then we can get them back into a clean environment. That’s our main concern,” he said.

As authorities try to get a grip on the rescue and recovery situation, The Bahamas’ regional neighbors and fellow bloc members are rallying in earnest to send aid, troops, food, water and other badly needed aid to the archipelago. Others have pledged cash. Already Prime Minister Allen Chastanet of St. Lucia, the current chairman of the bloc, Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados and Secretary General Irwin LaRocque have visited Abaco and have put out appeals and advisories of what is exactly needed in the aftermath of one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in history.

The region has for decades been lobbying the international community to be regarded as a zone with special needs given the fact that it is almost always the first port of call for increasingly powerful storms each year. These cause billions in destruction. In some cases, countries are hit in consecutive years, meaning that they are lashed even before rebuilding efforts from the first are completed.

Dorian was a category five storm with winds as bad as 200 miles per hour. The level of destruction was worsened by the fact that it had virtually stalled over the two islands, moving for long periods at no more than 1 mile per hour.

Meanwhile, Bahamian police Monday said that while the official death toll stood at 45, people should prepare for the worst as authorities are confident that many of the missing will end up on the register of deceased in the coming days. It has even put out appeals asking relatives to help them compile a list of the missing so they could use that database to work with.

“We anticipate the discovery of more bodies as the process of search and recovery progresses. There are many more persons presumed missing and we are appealing to the public to file missing persons reports, with the police, of those persons who have not been seen since the passage of Hurricane Dorian. We offer condolences to those families who have had loved ones die during the storm,” the force said in a statement.

Recovery efforts are expected to be boosted with a down payment of $11 million from the umbrella Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Facility. Half of this amount has already been paid out. The facility sells insurance to governments and countries for a range of catastrophes including excessive rainfall and floods.