A rising toll

(The Nassau Guardian) There is a significant humanitarian crisis on Grand Bahama and Abaco where many people are trapped in the remains of their homes, are homeless or are seeking shelter in government clinics.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, who visited Grand Bahama, said last night that the death toll rose to 20 and that figure is expected to rise.

“There are many on Grand Bahama who are suffering,” Minnis noted during a press conference.

“So far there have been 20 confirmed deaths…

“We expect there will be more.

“We will update the public as soon as we have accurate information. I ask you to pray for the families and loved ones of the deceased.”

Earlier yesterday, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands noted that there were 17 deaths of people in Abaco and three in Grand Bahama.

“At this point, we are starting to get a more vivid picture of the loss of life, at least in Abaco, and the loss of life in Grand Bahama,” Sands said on The Hit Back with Nahaja Black on Star 106.5 FM.

“So, the toll has risen to just 20 persons…in Abaco and Grand Bahama thus far. But bear in mind that search and rescue exercises, exploration of homes that were flooded, is just now starting. We’re gonna have to go door to door in Abaco, and door-to-door in Grand Bahama and we don’t know what we’re going to find.”

Search, rescue and recovery efforts continue on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.

Hurricane Dorian hit Abaco as a Category 5 storm with wind speeds of 185 miles per hour and 20-foot storm surges. It later pulverized Grand Bahama for nearly 40 hours.

In the aftermath of the storm, many residents who had to flee their crumbling homes were forced to relocate to shelters. There is no electricity on either island or running water. Communication remains spotty.

There have also been reports of looting on Abaco.

Minnis acknowledged these reports in his address.

“We have all heard the stories and accounts of looting and other disturbances,” Minnis said. 

“Bahamians are distressed that anyone would loot and further the suffering of those affected by this tragedy.

“This is a terrible disregard for the safety and security of others.

“Be warned: we will prosecute looters and other lawbreakers to the full extent of the law. We are a country of laws.

“I have mobilized the full resources of the government for search and recovery missions in Abaco and Grand Bahama.

“To reinforce security on these islands, additional police and defense officers have already been deployed.

“More security personnel were transported to Abaco today.

“There are approximately 60 Royal Bahamas Police Force officers permanently stationed on Abaco.

“Quite a number of these officers have lost their homes, yet they are acting with resolve and with bravery in the performance of their duties.

“They have been working nonstop before and after the devastation of Hurricane Dorian.

“We will be deploying sufficient officers to maintain the peace and to provide for general law and order.

“Bahamians are deeply grateful for our first responders, who are putting their lives on the line for their fellow Bahamians and residents.

“We know there are many who need help. I want to assure you that more help is on the way.”

Minister of National Security Marvin Dames, who visited Abaco yesterday, said last night that “our law enforcement team is in control of Abaco”.

The prime minister noted that he spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump and Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who both offered support to The Bahamas.

Trudeau tweeted that Canada will donate half a million dollars in immediate support for The Bahamas.

Minnis said, “There has been an extraordinary outpouring of support at home and abroad from those who want to do whatever they can for Grand Bahama and Abaco.

“We are welcoming teams from the international community and from our CARICOM friends and neighbors to aid in the response.

“Many CARICOM leaders have told me that they remember well that The Bahamas stood with them in their hour of need.

“This includes Dominica in 2017, after the devastation of Hurricane Irma, which was also hit by Hurricane Maria.”

Disaster response committee

Minnis said John Michael Clarke will chair the Disaster Relief and Reconstruction Committee and Nicole Campbell, permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, will serve as the co-chair.

“Along with NEMA, the Relief and Reconstruction Committee will help to coordinate our national response to this national crisis,” he said.

“The committee will include a number of private sector and public sector experts and individuals with a range of expertise.

“A reputable accounting firm will provide oversight to ensure that funds are properly spent. There will be regular reports to ensure accountability.

“This private-public sector collaboration is vital in the recovery and reconstruction of Abaco and Grand Bahama, both of which we will rebuild stronger and more resilient.”

Minnis also thanked the Carnival Corporation, which partnered with Tropical Shipping and NEMA, to collect and deliver NEMA-approved food and supplies donated in South Florida for residents affected by the storm.

“Deliveries will begin as soon as the harbors in the respective islands have been cleared and are safe,” he said.

“A contractor was mobilized today to begin clearing the harbor at Marsh Harbour, Abaco.

“The Carnival Corporation and the Micky and Madeline Arison Family Foundation have also pledged $2 million to the Hurricane Dorian recovery and relief effort.

“Tropical Shipping is offering friends and family of residents affected by Hurricane Dorian a 50 percent reduction on some shipping rates.”

Minnis noted that due to the devastating effects of Hurricane Dorian, the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport at Marsh Harbour, Abaco, and the Grand Bahama International Airport at Freeport are presently closed.

“During the closure of these airports, it is strongly advised that all flights, other than search and rescue missions and humanitarian relief flights coordinated through NEMA, refrain from operating in the airspace in the vicinity of both airports,” he said.

“This is to allow the unencumbered operation of vital lifesaving and relief flights.”

The prime minister noted that there is much work to be done in the coming days, weeks and months.

“We will meet this awesome challenge with the same mindset that led us to build this chain of islands over generations,” he said.