ABACO, Bahamas (AP) — The hurricane death toll is rising in the Bahamas, in what its leader calls “this hour of darkness.”
Search and rescue teams were still trying to reach some Bahamian communities isolated by floodwaters and debris Saturday after Hurricane Dorian struck the northern part of the archipelago last Sunday. At least 43 people died.
Several hundred people, many of them Haitian immigrants, waited at Abaco island’s Marsh Harbour in hopes of leaving the disaster zone on vessels arriving with aid. Bahamian security forces were organizing evacuations on a landing craft. Other boats, including yachts and other private craft, were also helping to evacuate people.
Avery Parotti, a 19-year-old bartender, and partner Stephen Chidles, a 26-year-old gas station attendant had been waiting at the port since 1 a.m. During the hurricane, waves lifted a yacht that smashed against a cement wall, which in turn collapsed on their home and destroyed it.
“There’s nothing left here. There are no jobs,” said Parotti, who hopes to start a new life in the United States, where she has relatives.
Dorval Darlier, a Haitian diplomat who had come from the Bahamian capital of Nassau, shouted in Creole, telling the crowd that sick people along with women and children should be evacuated before men.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said late Friday that 35 people were known dead on Abaco and eight on Grand Bahama island.
“We acknowledge that there are many missing and that the number of deaths is expected to significantly increase,” he said. “This is one of the stark realities we are facing in this hour of darkness.”
On Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that Minnis had told him that there would have been “many more casualties” without U.S. help. Trump credited the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard and the “brave people of the Bahamas.”
The U.S. Coast Guard has evacuated some people from devastated areas by helicopter. The United Nations, the British Royal Navy, American Airlines and Royal Caribbean and other organizations have mobilized to send in food, water, generators, roof tarps, diapers, flashlights and other supplies.
Marvin Dames, security minister in the Bahamas, said authorities were striving to reach everyone, but the crews can’t just bulldoze their way through fallen trees and other rubble because there might be bodies not yet recovered.
“We have been through this before, but not at this level of devastation,” Dames said.
Dames said the runway at the airport on Grand Bahama island had been cleared and was ready for flights. Authorities also said that all ports had been reopened on that island and Abaco, both of which were devastated by the Category 5 storm.
On Grand Bahama, a long line formed at a cruise ship that had docked to distribute food and water. Among those waiting was Wellisy Taylor, a housewife.
“What we have to do as Bahamians, we have to band together. If your brother needs sugar, you’re going to have to give him sugar. If you need cream, they’ll have to give you cream,” she said. “That’s how I grew up. That’s the Bahamas that I know.”