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No Reports Of Violence Against Us Relief Agencies

By NICO SCAVELLA

Tribune Staff Reporter

nscavella@tribunemedia.net

THERE have been no reports of violence against United States agencies conducting relief efforts in Abaco following Hurricane Dorian, the US Embassy has said.

The embassy, on its official Twitter account, said both the United States Coast Guard and Customs & Border Protection have been unimpeded in their relief efforts.

Superintendent Brian Rolle, the officer-in-charge of the Central Detective Unit for the northern islands, also said he has heard no official reports of criminal activities in Abaco.

However, Supt Rolle noted that communication with officials in Abaco has been strained, if not impossible due to the monster storm's passage.

US officials also said information going in and coming out of Abaco has made it "difficult" to accurately speak to the situation on the ground.

Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard, on its official website, said it has saved 61 people and rescued four pets as of 10am Wednesday.

Additionally, US Coast Guard Vice Admiral Scott Buschman, in an interview with MSNBC, said the agency has conducted "a number" of medical evacuations.

VADM Buschman said the US Coast Guard currently has helicopters in the air; Customs and Border Protection has two helicopters in the air, he said. The agency's official website says it is conducting air operations from Andros.

According to the US Coast Guard's website, the agency also has 17 shallow-water rescue boat teams standing by to respond to Hurricane Dorian. Three US Coast Guard cutters are "actively engaged" in hurricane response efforts, the website said.

VADM Buschman, in his interview with MSNBC, said the US Coast Guard's response was planned weeks in advance of the Category 5 storm, and that the helicopters were "pre-staged".

"We've actually been flying into Abaco islands--this is our third day now," he said. "We got out there on Tuesday with a few of our helicopters that were pre-staged in The Bahamas. And I want to reiterate that we've been planning for this storm for several weeks now knowing that this was going to be a significant storm, maybe in The Bahamas, certainly in the United States and everywhere in between.

"So we've been planning for about two weeks. We had helicopters pre-positioned in The Bahamas at their request."

When asked how long he thinks the US Coast Guard will remain in The Bahamas to lend its assistance, VADM Buschman said: "That's hard to say right now.

"We're focused on search and rescue, assisting those that need help, finding those that need the most medical evacuation, prioritise them and get them to a higher level of care.

"…Today is the first day we've had good weather," he added. "Not only in the Abacos. We've been flying for two previous days but the weather hasn't been really great flying conditions. Today it's good flying conditions, it's good flying conditions in Grand Bahama island so it gives us an opportunity to get out there and really get a handle on what the level of devastation is and how many people need assistance."

VADM Buschman said he had the opportunity to conduct an overflight assessment of Abaco with Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis; Health Minister Dr Duane Sands; Public Works Minister Desmond Bannister, and other officials. He said the group was able to fly "the length" of the island.

He said the group saw "lots of destruction, lots of devastation throughout our flight".

"Parts of the devastation I saw yesterday were certainly as bad as any devastation I've seen in any storm I've ever flown over after the hurricane passes," VADM Buschman told MSNBC.

Officials from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said although information is limited due to its agents being unable to conduct on-the-ground assessments due to the inclement weather, it is currently focused on providing shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene to those affected by the storm. Additionally, an official from the US Department of State Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs said besides the US Coast Guard operations, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is offering to assist in providing air traffic control for the impacted islands. That official said the State Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs is also "ready to respond" to whatever requests for other resources that may arise.

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