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Bahamians begin rescue efforts as Dorian moves on toward US coast

China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-05 09:19

An aerial photograph on Tuesday shows the damage left by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. [US COAST GUARD/REUTERS]

FREEPORT, Bahamas - Bahamians rescued victims of Hurricane Dorian with jet skis and a bulldozer as the US Coast Guard, Britain's Royal Navy and a handful of aid groups tried to get food and medicine to survivors and take the most desperate people to safety.

Airports were flooded and roads impassable after the most powerful storm to hit the Bahamas in recorded history stopped over Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, pounding them with winds up to 185 kilometers per hour and torrential rain before finally moving into open waters on Tuesday on a course toward Florida.

People on the US southeastern coast made final preparations for a storm with winds at a still-dangerous 175 km/h, making it a Category 2 storm.

At least seven deaths were reported in the Bahamas, with the full scope of the disaster still unknown.

The storm's punishing winds and muddy brown floodwaters destroyed or severely damaged thousands of homes, crippled hospitals and trapped people in attics.

"It's total devastation. It's decimated. Apocalyptic," said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a local hurricane relief group and flew over the Bahamas' hard-hit Abaco Islands. "It's not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again."

She said her representative on Abaco told her there were "a lot more dead", though she had no numbers as bodies being gathered.

Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis also expected more deaths and predicted that rebuilding would require "a massive, coordinated effort".

"We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country's history," the prime minister said at a news conference. "No effort or resources will be held back."

Five Coast Guard helicopters ran near-hourly flights to the stricken Abaco, flying more than 20 injured people to the capital's main hospital. British sailors were also rushing in aid. A few private aid groups also tried to reach the battered islands in the northern Bahamas.

"We don't want people thinking we've forgotten them. ... We know what your conditions are," Tammy Mitchell of the Bahamas' National Emergency Management Agency told ZNS Bahamas radio station.

With their heads bowed against heavy wind and rain, rescuers began evacuating people from the storm's aftermath across Grand Bahama island late on Tuesday, using jet skis, boats and even a huge bulldozer that cradled children and adults in its digger as it churned through deep waters and carried them to safety.

One rescuer gently scooped up an elderly man in his arms and walked toward a pickup truck waiting to evacuate him and others to higher ground.

Meanwhile, in the United States, more than 2 million people along the coast in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina were warned to evacuate. While the threat of a direct hit on Florida had all but evaporated, Dorian was expected to pass dangerously close to Georgia and South Carolina - and perhaps strike North Carolina - on Thursday or Friday. The hurricane's eye passed to the east of Cape Canaveral, Florida, early on Wednesday.

Walt Disney World and Sea-World in Orlando planned to close.

Even if landfall does not occur, the system is likely to cause storm surge and severe flooding, the US National Hurricane Center said.

"Don't tough it out. Get out," said US Federal Emergency Management Agency official Carlos Castillo.

In the Bahamas, the United Nations said more than 60,000 people on the islands will need food, and the Red Cross said that 62,000 will need clean drinking water.

Agencies - China Daily

Belinda Robinson in New York contributed to this story.

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