Sands: Final death toll will be ‘staggering’

The final death toll in Abaco is going to be “staggering”, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday.

Sands said morticians are embalming bodies and they are also looking to get more coolers into Abaco and Grand Bahama to create sufficient storage for the bodies.

“There has been what can only be described as utter devastation in both Abaco and Grand Bahama, and I think the public needs to prepare for unimaginable

information about the death toll and the human suffering, the loss of property, loss of life,” he said as he spoke to Juan McCartney on Guardian Talk Radio’s show The Revolution.

The official count as of yesterday morning was 23 deaths – 17 on Abaco and six on Grand Bahama.

“We have been very careful to speak about confirmed reports, meaning the number of confirmed dead, and make no bones about it, the number is going to be far higher than 23,” Sands said.

“It is going to be significantly higher than that. It’s just a matter of retrieving those bodies, making sure that we understand how they died, and it may seem as if we are splitting hairs, but not everybody that dies in the storm died because of the storm, and you may say it doesn’t matter.

“It does matter, because each of these individuals have family members, loved ones, etc., and we are responsible to make sure that we dot every i and cross every t, but for there to be an account of every single human being who has suffered or who has perished.

“And it’s going to be huge.”

Sands added, “By this afternoon, depending on the number of deceased persons that have been brought into Abaco, once I get a report, I suspect that the number will climb. We have a team of four morticians who have gone into Abaco to begin the process of embalming, because we are running out of cooler capacity.

“We have requested transportation of coolers, refrigerated coolers, to the north, central and south of Abaco, and as morbid as this may sound, similarly to Grand Bahama.

“The expectation is based on credible reports.”

Sands said that although there are reports of many bodies at the clinic in Marsh Harbour, there is a procedure that must be followed before they are added to the official count.

“[As] we speak the clinic administrator and these bodies have been brought in over the course of the night,” he said.

“Once the Emergency Operations Committee at the Ministry of Health, which has been convened, and which is working around the clock, gets that information now, they will then say, ‘Minister, the number is 40, 50.’

“And we will liaise with the Royal Bahamas Police Force and we have been in touch with the coroner, the forensic pathologist.”

Sands said, “Let me say that I believe the number will be staggering.

“…I have never lived through anything like this and I don’t want to live through anything like this again.”

Sands said that there are as many as 1,000 people seeking shelter in the Marsh Harbour clinic.

He said they are going to begin evacuating them to Nassau.

“We intend to remove between 300 to 500 individuals form the Marsh Harbour clinic today,” he said.

Asked how the government is addressing the risk of the spread of disease given all the standing water, Sands said that there has been a great effort to get bottled water and food into the island so that people have access to it.

Hurricane Dorian made its exit from The Bahamas on Tuesday night, after pulverizing Grand Bahama and Abaco for three days.

Widespread damage has been reported on both islands as a result of the storm, which left thousands of people homeless.

Sands added that 80 people were injured on Abaco. He expects that number to increase as well.

He said the government does not have the capacity to deal with this “health crisis” and revealed that he’s called on the director of the World Health Organization, among other organizations, for help.

“We will have three additional mini hospitals brought to both Abaco and Grand Bahama,” he said.

Sands said 50 additional doctors will be brought in as well to provide acute, long-term and psychological care. He said those doctors understand the conditions under which they will have to work.

Additionally, he also advised that the University of Miami has donated $9 million worth of medical supplies.

In the meantime, he said the government is trying to source ambulances for the islands. Abaco only has one functioning ambulance. The remainder of the fleet was damaged during the storm.

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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