By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday cautioned the nation to expect more deaths as officials begin assessments of Hurricane Dorian’s wrath, which was described as the greatest national crisis in the country’s history.
The number of confirmed deaths in Abaco climbed to seven yesterday as two victims transported to Nassau died at hospital.
Health Minister Dr Duane Sands did not reveal the identity or gender of the two victims; however, he said one was a 71-year-old who died from a head injury, and the other a 39-year-old who had no obvious signs of injury but had profound metabolic challenges.
At a press briefing at NEMA’s headquarters, Dr Minnis said he could not speak to reports of deaths in Grand Bahama until he saw the facts.
Dr Minnis said:“Of the 25 individuals that were transported to New Providence, two has already succumbed, that will take the number of deaths to seven. Again, I want to ensure and inform the Bahamian population that we can expect more deaths to be recorded. This is just preliminary information.”
He appealed to the nation for compassion for storm victims and their families, asking people not to send or share images of the dead.
Citing the government’s top priority as “search, rescue, and recovery”, Dr Minnis lauded the “bravery and fortitude” of Bahamians who endured hours and days of horror while the monster storm raged through Abaco and Grand Bahama; as well as the courage of first responders and volunteers who sprang into action with whatever resources they could find.
Assisted by the US government, Dr Minnis and a delegation including opposition leader Philip Davis and NEMA director Captain Stephen Russell conducted a fly-over assessment of Abaco yesterday afternoon.
Dr Minnis said more than 60 percent of the homes in Marsh Harbour, Abaco suffered extensive damage, adding shantytown The Mudd had been “decimated”.
Of Abaco’s devastation, he said the southern part of the island was not as devastated as Marsh Harbour. The national airport is underwater, with its surrounding runway and areas described to be like a lake.
Dr Minnis said Treasure Cay airport’s runway was still functional but surrounding roadways were underwater. While Cooper’s Town was not as badly damaged, a community situated outside its boundaries but before Treasure Cay was said to be cut off from the main population.
Dr Minnis said about 30 individuals were trapped in the area and waved yellow clothing and bedding to bring attention to their presence as the assessment plane flew overhead.
A helicopter was dispatched to rescue them, he said.
Speaking to international aid, Dr Minnis said a 600ft Royal Navy vessel would be delivering food to residents in Abaco last night. He underscored an outpouring of support for hurricane victims, and urged people to donate to reputable organisations like NEMA, The Bahamas Red Cross and Salvation Army so that aid could be effectively coordinated.
Dr Minnis outlined meetings with the undersecretary general of the UN with respect for humanitarian affairs; the prime minister of Canada today; and meetings with CARICOM officials on Thursday, including the prime ministers of St Lucia and Barbados.
Teams of police officers and defence force officers have been dispatched to Abaco, and are expected to arrive in Grand Bahama today.
Dr Minnis noted the measure was taken to secure Abaco and ensure there was not an increase in violence or looting.
Notwithstanding the devastation, Police Commissioner Anthony Ferguson declared the island “pretty safe”. Mr Ferguson said: “You can appreciate that in such a disaster buildings are breached and it is very likely that persons would use the opportunity to enter, but we do not have any information that suggests persons are actually taking over any of those places. Abaco is pretty safe despite the devastation by the hurricane.”
Mr Ferguson said it was too early to reveal further details about the Abaco deaths.
As of 8pm yesterday, the centre of Hurricane Dorian was 85 miles north of Freeport and had picked up speed moving away from the country northwest at 6mph. After stalling over Grand Bahama for more than 24 hours, Dorian had weakened to a Category 2 storm.
However, senior meteorologist Trevor Basden cautioned tropical storm force winds would continue to impact the Northwest Bahamas as the monster storm had grown with winds extending 175 miles from the center.
Surge water levels in Grand Bahama and Abaco were expected to subside through the evening yesterday.
While hurricane warnings have been discontinued, Mr Basden said an all clear for the country would not be issued until today at 5am.
Yesterday, Dr Sands praised the efforts of American armed forces and local healthcare providers and first responders.
American teams in Abaco rescued 11 people on Monday, and 20 people yesterday. Dr Sands confirmed the first three patients from Grand Bahama were also rescued yesterday.
Of healthcare providers, Dr Sands said: “Given the magnitude of the event, it is absolutely amazing they have managed critically ill patients with head injuries, spine injuries, lacerations, broken bones. They have done an absolutely phenomenal job under incredibly challenging circumstances.”
Following a local briefing at NEMA’s headquarters, Dr Minnis also detailed the storm’s devastation in two live interviews with MSNBC and CNN last night.
He appealed for immediate assistance with safety, security, food and water; and further outlined medium and long term needs to rebuild infrastructure.
Dr Minnis told CNN Bahamians were resilient and those on affected islands will not likely want to leave their homes.
“We will rebuild,” Dr Minnis said, “we’ve been down this road before, though not as bad as this. We’ve experienced hurricanes with great degree of destruction. We will rebuild the two islands devastated or destroyed and bring them back in a functional state as soon as possible.”