Dorian death toll reaches 43

Wreckage and debris left by Hurricane Dorian in the Mudd neighborhood of Marsh Harbour, the Bahamas, on Friday. The full human toll of the disaster is still far from certain, with at least 43 deaths confirmed so far and the authorities warning that the real number may be much higher. Daniele Volpe/New York Times

As relief efforts ramped up Saturday for the hurricane-ravaged islands of Grand Bahama and the Abacos, authorities reported that at least 43 people have died in the Bahamas — though the number is expected to rise with hundreds of people still missing.

Health Minister Duane Sands confirmed the death toll from Hurricane Dorian late Friday.

The Bahamian government is working with numerous search and rescue teams to reach communities isolated by flood waters and debris left in the wake of the hurricane that slammed the northern Bahamas earlier this week with 185 mph winds that wiped out countless homes, churches and other buildings.

The storm’s crushing impact has created a “humanitarian crisis,” the Bahamian financial services ministry said.

Efforts are underway to move evacuees by the thousands to safety, including on a cruise ship that arrived Saturday morning at the Port of Palm Beach. Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line announced that its ship, Grand Celebration, brought 1,100 people to South Florida after spending almost an entire day vetting the evacuees’ visa and passport documents. On Friday, the ship docked in Freeport and delivered tons of water and food for hurricane victims.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard reported rescuing 290 people in the Bahamas. Based out of Andros Island, six MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters are conducting search and rescue missions along with area assessments. Nine Coast Guard cutters are also providing support to the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency and the Royal Bahamas Defense Force.

Relief efforts have escalated with the U.S. military planning airlifts, government officials touring the disaster zones and a private cruise ship delivering tons of supplies.

But many suffering Bahamians, baking under a blistering sun, simply wanted out on Friday — and the pace of evacuations was maddeningly slow.

“It’s all so unsure and chaotic,” said Angelique Hall, who was nursing an infected leg and joined her blind father and young child at the Marsh Harbour Port Authority hoping to catch a ride to Nassau. “We’re getting desperate here.”

Hall and her family were among 300 to 400 people who crowded the port. A private ferry was hired to evacuate port employees. The boat only had room for about 100 evacuees, and police and military officers were trying to prioritize women, children and the sick.

Saturday marked four days since Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 hurricane with winds of over 180 miles per hour, finished its slow pounding of the islands and authorities worked feverishly to find bodies, reach obliterated neighborhoods and treat victims.

Some refugees were being ferried to the island of Eleuthera, which escaped major damage but itself needed supplies brought in for the storm exiles.

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis visited Abaco’s port, urging patience and calm, particularly for the Haitian minority community. He also announced that Bahamasair, the country’s national airline, would offer free flights for residents of Abaco and Grand Bahama.

Relief and evacuation efforts, however, had been complicated by chaotic air traffic control.

But hope of better organization came Friday as the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is organizing the relief efforts, formally asked the U.S. Department of Defense for help. Officials announced Friday that the Department of Defense would begin “airlift and logistics support,” which would include clearing the runways at Abaco’s airport.

Tribune Wire

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