While Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said that 279 people are listed as missing in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, he could not say why police recently said the figure was 33 and said people should not get “fixated” on the issue.
On Sunday, in response to “explosive” comments from former Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands that thousands of names of people reported missing immediately after Dorian were removed from the official list after police took responsibility, Dames said 279 people were missing.
However, during a Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) press conference a month ago, Assistant Commissioner of Police Solomon Cash said 33 people were reported as missing.
Asked why there was such a wide gap in the numbers, Dames said yesterday that he does not know and urged the public not to “get fixated” on the issue, as the numbers will continue to fluctuate.
“I don’t know the reason for that,” he said outside Cabinet.
“The numbers that were given were not Marvin Dames’ numbers. They are the numbers compiled and taken from the centralized listing. The question is were those numbers from a centralized listing?
“I don’t know. All of these numbers are now in the hands of the police.
“Let’s not get fixated on this. And I think sometimes we get caught in a position where we think something is amiss. What is amiss? Our only intention in all of this is to ensure that we reach those persons who were impacted.
“Many of these persons were not really missing, but they were added to the list because they needed assistance.”
Shortly after the passage of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, thousands of residents on Abaco, its cays and Grand Bahama were feared dead and missing.
The Category 5 storm leveled portions of both islands, ripping homes apart with its ferocious winds and 25- foot storm surges. Relatives recounted watching their loved ones being swept away or die during the storm.
When he addressed the United Nations General Assembly last September, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said 600 people were reported missing in Dorian’s aftermath.
Days later in Parliament, Minnis said the number was revised to 424. A week later, on October 9, Social Services Minister Frankie Campbell told Parliament that 1,208 people were listed as missing. Dames told The Tribune the next day that 282 people were listed as missing.
In January, then Commissioner of Police Anthony Ferguson said 54 people were listed as missing. Finally, Cash advised that 33 were listed as missing.
“The numbers will adjust upwards and downwards from time to time,” Dames said yesterday.
“That is the nature of this. We are getting fixated on this one said this and that one said that. That is common in situations like this. And the expectations from certain people, wanting an update every day, that is not how it works.
“We have to take into consideration the sensitivity of this all and the true victims.”
The minister noted that Bahamians “can expect that that list will continue to change”.
“So, I’m not going to get caught up in this debate about numbers because it seems to suggest that you’re inferring something, and your inference is incorrect,” he said.
“Our obligation is to those people who would have been impacted by this. And the police have been doing a yeoman’s job in trying to get this list to where it ought to be, so that at the end of the day we have as accurate as possible the list of missing persons.
“And I feel, based on how these numbers are trending, that these numbers will continue to fall.”
Dames noted that the government knows some things could have been handled better in the aftermath of Dorian.
“Every nation facing disasters is faced with the same thing. To think that you can come out of a disaster and that you are perfect is ridiculous. So, can we look back and say we could have done some things better? One hundred percent. One hundred percent.
“But let’s not lose one fact, that we are committed to those persons who would have been impacted and our principal objective here is to ensure that those persons who would have lost loved ones and haven’t been afforded the opportunity to bury them, that they can bring some closure to their lives. That’s our objective.
“…So let’s not get caught up in this one said this number and that one said that number. The number is what was reported yesterday.”
As noted, last week, Sands said thousands of names of people reported missing immediately after Dorian were removed from the official list after police took responsibility for that aspect of the storm’s aftermath, noting that no explanation was ever given for why the list was “pruned”.
He called for a coroner’s inquest to be convened and for the Minnis administration to apologize for how it handled this critical matter.
In his statement on Sunday, Dames said he was “shocked and disappointed” by Sands’ comments.
“His recent remarks in the House are particularly surprising given that as the minister of health he played a leading role in the government’s Hurricane Dorian’s response and restoration,” Dames said in that statement.
“He was afforded every opportunity to voice his concerns about the process and offer solutions to improve it.”
The remains of 55 unidentified storm victims were buried in Abaco on May 22.
The official death toll from the catastrophic storm is 74.