Officials call for humanitarian aid as death toll climbs in Bahamas

John Roach
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Officials call for humanitarian aid as death toll climbs in Bahamas

The death toll in the Bahamas rose to 30 on Thursday evening, the island nation's top health official said, as the full extent of the destruction and lives lost became more apparent.

According to the New York Times, Bahamas Health Minister Duane Sands said at least 20 of the fatalities were people from the Abaco Islands and at least three were from Grand Bahama. Officials worry the death toll may continue to increase as rescue and recovery efforts continue.

"Our response will be day and night, day after day, week after week, month after month until the lives of our people return to some degree of normalcy," Bahamas Prime Minister Huber Minnis said when he addressed reporters Wednesday night. He went on to describe the scene as "generational devastation across Abaco and Grand Bahama."

ABC News reported that at least 200 people have been reported missing and thousands are displaced. By Thursday, the sun was shining again in the Bahamas as Dorian was lashing the southeastern coast of the United States, its eye remaining offshore. The U.S. Coast Guard has been conducting rescue operations, and Minnis said a Coast Guard aircraft carried him over the Bahamas so he could assess the breadth of the damage.

The prime minister also said he spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump and Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday, and that both leaders pledged assistance with relief efforts in the Bahamas.

Also, Florida State Senator Rick Scott said in a recent tweet that they will do everything possible to help Bahamas residents.

"Just spoke to the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, @minnis_dr, on the current conditions on the islands. I've told me their biggest need right now is temporary housing and shelters. I've assured him we will do everything we can to help the people of the Bahamas during this time," reads the tweet posted Thursday afternoon.

António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations visited the islands on Wednesday to meet with Minnis and discuss the United Nations support for the recovery efforts.

According to a United Nations statement, the secretary-general is calling on donors to provide funding for the humanitarian response and recovery efforts.

"People who have lost everything urgently need shelter, safe drinking water, food and medicine," Guterres said.

However, the situation grew more tenuous there, as AccuWeather Jonathan Petramala reported. On Wednesday in Marsh Harbour, he shot video showing people crammed into an office building and doing laundry In buckets and drying clothes on trees and downed power lines. Locals, Petramala said, warn that people are on edge in the storm aftermath and there's a chance violence could break out.

The stories of human suffering and along with the aerial images of the widespread damage underscored the prime minister's remarks about the long road ahead his island nation is facing.

Jessica Mullen of Hope Town in Elbow Cay gave a video tour of the destruction her home suffered in a post on Facebook. Rain was still falling and wind gusts were still whipping as Mullen captured the hellish scene on her smartphone.

She chronicled the most harrowing moments, recalling how she and her family ran from room to room, seeking the strongest place for shelter before eventually riding out the brunt of Dorian's wrath in a small closet.

"Every room in this house has the windows blown out," except for one, she said. "This is insane," an overwhelmed Mullen marveled as she surveyed the wreckage all around her, furniture and debris tossed around like children's toys.

Outside her home, the effects of Dorian were just as evident."Ohh, my God," Mullen said looking over what appeared to be small forest of trees separating her home from the shoreline. "There is not a single leaf left on any tree."

In a subsequent post, she summed up her feelings about surviving such a menacing storm. "We are very lucky," she said.

The devastation in Freeport on Grand Bahama Island particularly struck veteran CNN reporter Patrick Oppmann, who said, "There are believed to be hundreds of people out there waiting to be rescued .... It gets worse every day. Usually after a hurricane, things start to get better. Here, things are continuing to get worse."

Oppmann spoke with Freeport resident Howard Armstrong, whose wife died while the pair battled against the storm. "My poor little wife got hypothermia and she was standing on top of the kitchen cabinets until they just disintegrated. And then I kept with her and she just drowned on me," Armstrong says.

In the U.S., as Dorian moves northward, its greatest impacts will be felt across parts of the eastern Carolinas into Friday, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.

Damaging winds, moderate flooding and storm surge are expected along the southeastern U.S. coast; as a result, Dorian's impact is projected to be a 2 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes.

"Even though Dorian is forecast to gradually lose intensity near the eye, the hurricane will gradually grow in girth in the coming days," said AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

Evacuations for more than 2 million people began earlier this week and governors from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia all declared state of emergencies and called for mandatory evacuations.

"North Carolina juts out into the Atlantic Ocean and we have suffered two hurricanes in the last three years, so our antenna is up. We are prepared. We are ready to go in the event this storm does hit us," North Carolina governor Roy Cooper told CNN. "We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst."

Additional reporting by Jonathan Petramala in the Bahamas.