Sept. 3 (UPI) — Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis on Tuesday said the country is in the midst of a “historic tragedy” after Hurricane Dorian battered the Atlantic islands and killed several people.
Minnis said his office in downtown Grand Bahama is flooded, as is the first floor of the hospital. There have been five confirmed deaths from the storm, which battered the islands for most of Monday with 145 mph winds and began moving away early Tuesday.
“Our focus is search, rescue and recovery,” the Bahamian leader said. “I ask for your prayers for those in affected areas and for our first responders. Many homes, business and other buildings have been completely or partially destroyed.”
The Bahama Press reported that though officials have confirmed five deaths, sources told the newspaper that more than that have died.
The U.S. Coast Guard has been launching trips to Abaco and the surrounding islands to search for survivors. Local rescue agencies said they won’t be able to join the operations until Wednesday. Nassau’s airport is being used as a staging area for people brought in from the Abaco Islands from the Coast Guard.
Some have used jet skis and motorboats to rescue people, while families are using social media to reach out to friends and relatives.
The Association of Bahamas Marinas, however, stated that private vessels should not try to reach the islands at this time.
“The current U.S. and Bahamian government efforts to get people are to get people out the impacted areas of the Abacos and Grand Bahama,” the association said. “There is tons of debris floating and under the water there is nowhere to tie up, there are no warehousing facilities for goods delivered, roads on the islands are not passable and communications with the islands are still at a bare minimum.”
More than 62,000 people in the island chain don’t have access to fresh, drinkable water, CBS News reported Tuesday.
Power was cut to the entire island of New Providence, the most populous island in the commonwealth, utility officials said.
“We are working through the aftermath of flooding on the island, and remained determined to safely and securely return the entire island to service,” Bahamas Power and Light said Monday night.
The U.S. Coast Guard said it’s conducting rescue missions on Abaco Island, where many Haitian migrants live. Four MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters transported 19 people from the Marsh Harbor clinic to Nassau International Airport Monday.
With the storm still lingering, officials said the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency may not be able to reach the island until Wednesday.
On the island of Grand Bahama, flooding was so high that residents formed human chains to reach higher ground as they awaited rescue, the Miami Herald reported. Others cut holes in their ceilings to reach the roofs of their homes.
Floodwaters also submerged the Grand Bahama International Airport.
Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for Grand Bahama, said some areas of the island received flooding up to 6 feet high.
“Things are not good in Grand Bahama right now,” he said. “Conditions are catastrophic. We have parts of the island that are completely under water, where the water has already risen waist-high.”
Florida Rep. Shevrin Jones has relatives in the Bahamas and said he plans to organize a trip to the Bahamas to join search and rescue efforts.
“Right now, it’s literally all hands on deck,” Jones tweeted. “We just have to get over there and help them as soon as possible.”
“We hope our $ 1 million donation will provide much-needed relief and help our neighbors, colleagues and all those impacted by this devastating storm begin the long process of recovery as they work to put their lives and communities back together,” Disney CEO Robert Iger said.
The City of Miami, Salvation Army and Bahamas Red Cross have also set up donation drives to provide resources to those affected by the storm.