By Michael Weissenstein / Associated Press
ABACO, Bahamas — Search and rescue teams are still trying to reach some Bahamian communities isolated by floodwaters and debris after Hurricane Dorian, while the official death toll has risen to 43 and is likely to increase even more, top officials said.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said late Friday 35 were known dead on Abaco Island and eight in Grand Bahama. “We acknowledge that there are many missing and that the number of deaths is expected to significantly increase,” he said. “This is one of the stark realities we are facing in this hour of darkness.”
On Saturday morning, several hundred people, many of them Haitian immigrants, waited at Abaco’s Marsh Harbour in hopes of leaving the disaster zone on vessels arriving with aid. Bahamian security forces were organizing evacuations on a landing craft. Other boats, including yachts and other private craft, were also helping to evacuate people.
Avery Parotti, a 19-year-old bartender, and partner Stephen Chidles, a 26-year-old gas station attendant had been waiting at the port since 1 a.m. During the hurricane, waves lifted a yacht that smashed against a cement wall, which in turn collapsed on their home and destroyed it.
“There’s nothing left here. There are no jobs,” said Parotti, who hopes to start a new life in the United States, where she has relatives.
Security Minister Marvin Dames said authorities were striving to reach everyone, but the crews can’t just bulldoze their way through fallen trees and other rubble because there might be bodies not yet recovered.
“We have been through this before, but not at this level of devastation,” Dames said.
He expressed understanding for the complaints of people who are calling for help after having their lives shattered by Dorian, but he urged patience for efforts by authorities to get in humanitarian aid.
The search for victims and survivors went on nearly a week after Dorian slammed the Bahamas with 185 mph (295 kph) winds that obliterated countless homes.
An array of organizations, countries and companies, including the United Nations, the U.S. government, the British Royal Navy, American Airlines and Royal Caribbean, have mobilized to send in food, water, generators, roof tarps, diapers, flashlights and other supplies. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said the U.S. aid agency has asked the Defense Department to provide heavy-lift cargo planes to fly in supplies.
Dames said the runway at the airport on Grand Bahama island had been cleared and was ready for flights. Authorities also said that all ports had been reopened on that island and Abaco, both of which were devastated by the Category 5 storm.
On Grand Bahama, a long line formed at a cruise ship that had docked to distribute food and water. Among those waiting was Wellisy Taylor, a housewife.
“What we have to do as Bahamians, we have to band together. If your brother needs sugar, you’re going to have to give him sugar. If you need cream, they’ll have to give you cream,” she said. “That’s how I grew up. That’s the Bahamas that I know.”
Associated Press journalist Gerardo Carrillo in Freeport, Bahamas, and AP writer Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.