Rescue crews in the Bahamas fanned out across a blasted landscape of smashed and flooded homes, trying to reach drenched and stunned victims of Hurricane Dorian and take the full measure of the disaster. The official death toll stood at seven but was certain to rise.
A day after the most powerful hurricane on record ever to hit the country finished mauling the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, emergency workers had yet to reach some stricken areas.
“Right now there are just a lot of unknowns,” Parliament member Iram Lewis said. “We need help.”
The storm parked over the Bahamas and pounded it for over a day and a half with Category 5 winds up to 185 mph (295 kph) and torrential rains, swamping neighborhoods in muddy brown floodwaters and destroying or severely damaging thousands of homes.
The U.S. Coast Guard, Britain’s Royal Navy and relief organizations including the United Nations and the Red Cross joined the burgeoning effort to rush food and medicine to survivors and lift the most desperate people to safety by helicopter. The U.S. government also dispatched urban search-and-rescue teams.
The Bahamian government sent hundreds of police officers and marines into the stricken islands, along with doctors, nurses and other health care workers.
“Today will tell the magnitude of the problem,” Health Minister Duane Sands said.
Londa Sawyer stepped off a helicopter in Nassau, the capital, with her two children and two dogs after being rescued from Marsh Harbor in the Abaco islands.
“It looks like a bomb hit,” she said. “I’m just thankful I’m alive. The Lord saved me.”
Sawyer said that her home was completely flooded and that she and her family fled to a friend’s home, where the water came up to the second floor and carried them up to within a few feet of the roof. She said she and her children and the dogs were floating on a mattress for about half an hour until the water began receding.
Sandra Cooke, who lives in Nassau, said her sister-in-law was trapped under her roof for 17 hours in the Abaco islands and wrapped herself in a shower curtain as she waited.
“The dog laid on top of her to keep her warm until the neighbors could come to help,” she said. “All of my family lives in Marsh Harbor, and everybody lost everything. Not one of them have a home to live anymore.”
Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, with a combined population of about 70,000, are known for their marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts. Nearly half the homes were feared severely damaged or destroyed, the Red Cross said.
The U.S. mainland recorded its first death in connection with the hurricane, that of an 85-year-old man in North Carolina who fell off a ladder while trying to prepare his home for the storm. Dorian was also blamed for one death in Puerto Rico.
Rescuers in Bahamas Face a Ruined Landscape