The number of people recorded as missing in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian stands at 279, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said yesterday as he expressed “shock” and “disappointment” over statements made by former Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands in the House of Assembly on the issue last week.
At a press conference held by the Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) three weeks ago, Assistant Commissioner of Police Solomon Cash reported that only 33 people were still listed as missing.
On Thursday, in his first address to Parliament since resigning from Cabinet on May 4, 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”.
But Dames said in a statement, “At no time was any attempt made by the police or anyone else to delete any names off the list without first performing due diligence. If the former minister or anyone else has information to prove otherwise, the ministry requests that it be made public for all to see.”
Speaking of Sands, the national security minister said, “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.
“He was afforded every opportunity to voice his concerns about the process and offer solutions to improve it.”
He pointed to comments attributed to Sands in an article published in the Miami Herald on September 8, 2019.
In the article, Sands refuted claims that the government was suppressing Dorian’s death toll.
According to the article, he noted that the government was simply tallying confirmed deaths as the bodies arrived at the morgue.
Sands told the Miami Herald that claims that suggest a government cover-up were “false” and “unfortunate”.
For this reason, Dames said yesterday, “The ministry finds the former minister’s most recent comments disingenuous. His comments malign the good name and reputation of the hard working men and women in uniform, who continue to this day to make sacrifices to help those families affected by Dorian.
“His recent comments are misleading, and whether intentionally or unintentionally, impinge the good standing efforts of our nation in the eyes of the international community and to reopen up old wounds of a people whose lives have been shattered as a result of this tragedy.
“Given the magnitude of this disaster, the government of The Bahamas mobilized the public and private sectors, while seeking the assistance of the international community to manage the crisis.
“The Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF), by law, is the agency of government responsible for the investigations of all persons reported missing in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. The police, in partnership with other government agencies, NGOs and international experts undertook the very arduous task of compiling a list of missing individuals.”
Truthful and thorough
Sands has called for coroner’s inquests to be convened and for the Minnis administration to apologize for how it handled this critical matter.
In his contribution to Parliament, Sands said, “We started with a list of several thousand persons missing. That list was managed by the Ministry of Social Services.
“We ended with a missing persons list controlled by the RBPF that included fewer names than the number of unidentified persons buried. To this day, we do not know what happened that caused thousands or hundreds of names to be excluded from the official list.
“There may be reasonable, justifiable reasons for pruning the list. But those reasons and processes have not been shared and explained to the public. Because of that process, we have raised many questions and squandered credibility.”
However, Dames shot that down yesterday.
“From the onset, it was a known fact that some people in search of missing relatives were making reports to agencies/organizations other than the police including the Department of Social Services, the Red Cross and NEMA,” he said.
“The police immediately went to work to compile a centralized list which totaled 1,092 people from both Grand Bahama and Abaco. Of the total, 34 were from Grand Bahama and 1,058 were from Abaco.
“After the police took receipt of the initial list and began their reconciliation work, they discovered that the list consisted not only of missing persons but also persons in need of housing assistance, persons reporting other crimes, persons who were displaced and duplication of names. The number of persons falling within these categories totaled 813.”
Dames said police continue to issue flyers in English and Creole as a means of encouraging individuals to report “sightings of missing persons”.
He said public service announcements are also being utilized.
Police continue to canvass communities on Grand Bahama and Abaco as well as visit shelters, where Dorian victims remain, according to Dames.
He said the figure of the missing is “expected to fluctuate” as the police’s reconciliation process continues.
“It should be noted that fluctuations after such a disaster is common as was the case in Hurricane Katrina,” the minister said.
“A National Geographic report (16th January 2019) noted that 14 years after Katrina officials are still trying to determine the accurate number of missing persons. Hurricane deaths are often difficult to fully quantify and numbers vary.
“The police force and its partner agencies will continue with its efforts which are well documented and consistent with international standards and best practices.”
Dames added, “The Ministry of National Security would like to commend the efforts of the Royal Bahamas Police Force and its partner agencies for the work they continue to do to help those impacted by this incident.
“Hurricane Dorian is the worst natural disaster to affect The Bahamas and it has caused severe psychological, economic and social challenges. While our government remains committed to assisting those displaced, we are equally committed to recovering and identifying the missing.
“This is important as it will reveal the fate of the victims and provide closure for the families. The Ministry of National Security has sought to be truthful and as thorough as possible in accounting for the death toll.”
The remains of 55 unidentified storm victims were buried in Abaco on May 22.
The official death toll from the catastrophic Category 5 hurricane that devastated Grand Bahama and Abaco last September is 74.