At least five people are dead and 21 injured after Hurricane Dorian visited “unprecedented devastation” on Abaco on Sunday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said yesterday.
Initial reports indicate that Abaco and its surrounding cays were severely impacted by catastrophic winds and “extraordinary flooding”.
“There are questions about fatalities,” Minnis said during a press conference at the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) headquarters around 5 p.m.
“Thus far, the Royal Bahamas Police Force has confirmed that there are five deaths on Abaco.
“Teams will go to Abaco as soon as possible for full and proper assessment and identification.
“We are going to be very careful in reporting such information, which should only come from official channels and be verified by the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
“We need to be sensitive in reporting such information and will do so as soon as we have reliable information.
“The initial reports from Abaco is that the devastation is unprecedented and extensive.
“They are deeply worrying.
“The images and videos we are seeing are heartbreaking.
“Many homes, businesses and other buildings have been destroyed.
“There is an extraordinary amount of flooding and damage to infrastructure.
“I wish to report that the U.S. Coast Guard is already on the ground in Abaco and has rescued a number of injured individuals.
“Critically injured individuals are being taken to the Princess Margaret Hospital on New Providence.”
Minnis said 21 people, five of whom were seriously injured, were airlifted from Abaco to New Providence by the U.S. Coast Guard.
He said the government was putting in place a rapid relief response plan.
“We are putting together a Hurricane Relief and Recovery Committee,” he said.
“We will announce the coordinator as soon as possible.
“Exigency orders have been prepared to allow donated and purchased relief supplies from registered charitable organizations to enter the affected areas free of customs duty and VAT in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane.
“Landing fees will also be waived in the affected areas, as well as departure taxes and customs processing fees for non-commercial flights.
“The orders cover Abaco, the Abaco Cays, Grand Bahama, Sweeting’s Cay, Deep Water Cay and Water Cay.
“In addition to goods traditionally exempted after past hurricanes, we are including in these orders: medicine and medical supplies, electrical generators, tents, cots, bedding material and mosquito nettings.
“Individuals affected by Hurricane Dorian are included in the exigency orders subject to verification by NEMA.”
While Dorian was downgraded to a category four hurricane with winds of 150 miles per hour, it battered Grand Bahama for the better part of yesterday and early this morning.
Many residents on that island were trapped in their homes, either climbing into their ceilings or venturing out into the storm.
Reporters on ZNS Grand Bahama, before the station went offline yesterday evening, read desperate pleas for help from many residents who were reportedly trapped on the eastern end of the island.
There were calls from officials earlier in the day to people who have jet skis to go out and help with rescue efforts on the island.
Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard, the MP for Marco City, shared a “frightening” video of his home on Grand Bahama. In it, Pintard shows what he says is “20 foot” of water outside his windows and back door.
Minnis said The Bahamas is in the “midst of a historic tragedy”, adding that the government’s mission is now search, rescue and recovery.
“We know that there are a number of people in Grand Bahama who are in serious distress,” Minnis said.
“We will provide relief and assistance as soon as possible after the Met Department has given the all clear.
“I strongly urge the residents of Grand Bahama to remain indoors and to be as safe as possible until the all clear is given by the appropriate authorities.
“Bahamians across our country and throughout the world are praying for you.”
Minnis called on Bahamians to “unite with a singular focus of helping our brothers and sisters in need”.
“We will provide information as to where and how individuals, families and corporate citizens, can donate resources and funds to assist those in need,” he said.
“Due to the extent of the devastation, when weather permits and transportation resumes, I ask Bahamians and residents on islands not devastated by the storm, to open their homes to friends and family who are in need.
“Your compassion at this most difficult hour will bring healing and hope to those who are traumatized by this destructive hurricane.
“Bahamians have a charitable spirit.”