Desperate calls for help from flooded Bahamas islands

Port Saint Lucie (United States) (AFP) - The message was desperate, despondent and urgent.

"Anybody who can help me, this is Kendra Williams. I live in Heritage. We are under water; we are up in the ceiling.

"Can someone please assist us or send some help. Please."

"Me and my six grandchildren and my son, we are in the ceiling."

The text message was forwarded to AFP by Yasmin Rigby, a resident of Freeport. Authorities in the hurricane-hammered Bahamas said they were getting many such dire-sounding pleas for help.

"We're getting a lot of frantic people calling in," Don Cornish, the Grand Bahama disaster manager, told NPR.

"They're very concerned because of the storm surge... We have had persons who are trying to get out in these conditions because they're desperate because of the level the water has come in their homes."

-'Haven't heard anything' -

Dorian, which arrived as a mammoth Category 5 hurricane and settled in over the islands before being downgraded Monday to a still-dangerous Category 4, brought with it devastating winds and torrential downpours.

Potentially most destructive for some of the low-lying islands have been storm surges of 10 to 20 feet (three to six meters) -- or more. As of Monday, they had left wide areas under water.

Rigby said Freeport's airport and hospital were both under water. Both power and water had gone out.

"Some other family members evacuated from a once-safe house to us," she told AFP. "I'm praying the water does not come this way."

A message circulated by the command center in New Providence, Bahamas, urgently requested jet skis, small boats and life jackets.

Pleas for help went out on Twitter, though the details could not be confirmed.

One man said some family members were on their roof in Freeport. "Haven't heard anything from/about my fam in Abaco since Saturday," he added.

Water was nearly roof-level in many places. Surging waves tossed roof shingles, loose wood and mangled debris violently about, slapping against -- or rushing through -- homes.

- An infant, and no roof -

One video on Twitter showed waves crashing high against the window of a home in Grand Bahama. Another showed a family's jumbled belongings being washed back and forth through their living room.

The Nassau Guardian newspaper told the harrowing story of 35-year-old Gertha Joseph of Marsh Harbor, Abaco, who stood at the top of a staircase in her home Sunday, holding her four-month-old son, as waves tore through the house -- when her roof blew off.

As she stood paralyzed with fear, a neighbor came to help.

"He put (my son in) this plastic thing and he swam across with him because I can't swim," she said.

She told a reporter she and more than 50 people had crowded into the only house standing on her street.

She didn't know where she would go once the storm waters recede.

"I'm just going to keep praying," she said.