MARSH HARBOUR (Bahamas) • The death toll from Hurricane Dorian’s devastating rampage across the Bahamas rose to 43 and is likely to climb significantly, officials said, with hundreds missing even as rescuers plucked desperate survivors from the debris.
More than 260 residents of the brutally damaged Abaco Islands arrived in the capital city of Nassau after spending more than seven hours on a government-chartered ferry, a second of which was expected to arrive overnight.
Those who made it to safety awaited news of loved ones.
Ms Diane Forbes has not heard from her two sons since last Tuesday and was searching for them among about 200 evacuees sheltering at a gymnasium on Friday night in Nassau, which was spared the wrath of the hurricane.
“They said they were hungry, and the scent of the bodies, the dead, was really getting to them… I don’t know if my son is alive or not,” she said of one of her children, who had been in Marsh Harbour on Abaco with his girlfriend and her mother.
Confirming the new toll of 43, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said 35 were killed on worst-hit Abaco and eight on Grand Bahama island.
“The loss of life we are experiencing is catastrophic and devastating,” he said in a statement on Friday quoted by The Tribune newspaper.
With many missing, “this number is expected to grow significantly”, his spokesman Erica Wells Cox told NBC News.
On the eventual death toll, Health Minister Duane Sands earlier said “the number will be staggering”.
Ms Joy Jibrilu, the director-general of the Bahamian tourism and aviation ministry, told CNN: “Literally hundreds, up to thousands, of people are still missing.”
According to UN relief officials, more than 70,000 people – virtually the entire population of Grand Bahama and Abaco – are in need of assistance.
The US Coast Guard and private organisations have been evacuating residents of Abaco and other islands to Nassau.
The multinational relief effort, which also includes Britain’s Royal Navy and several non-governmental organisations, has been hampered by flood damage to airport runways, destroyed piers and docks and downed communications.
Tents and awnings installed at Nassau Airport provided temporary housing for storm-battered Bahamians.
Meanwhile, Dorian made landfall in the United States as a Category 1 hurricane packing winds of nearly 150kmh.
Thousands of coastal residents of US states from Florida to Virginia had been fearing the worst but the East Coast largely escaped unscathed.
At 5pm yesterday, the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre said Dorian was about 233km south-east of Nantucket island and was producing tropical storm force winds in south-east Massachusetts as it headed towards Canada.