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Amid fears of higher death toll, islanders vie to leave Bahamas

China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-09 09:50

People on Saturday wait in the port of Marsh Harbor, Bahamas, to board a cargo ship for evacuation to Nassau. [BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP]

MARSH HARBOR, Bahamas - Bahamians scrambled to escape the islands hardest hit by Dorian, which has killed at least 43 people, while the storm wreaked "havoc" farther north in Canada after making landfall near Halifax on Saturday.

Even as some Bahamians began to reunite with their loved ones, the death toll - 35 so far in the Abaco Islands and eight in Grand Bahama - was likely to climb "significantly", according to Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis.

A loosely coordinated armada of passenger planes, helicopters and both private and government boats and ships, including redirected cruise liners, converged in the Bahamas on the horribly battered Abacos to help with evacuations, both to Nassau and to the US mainland.

Evacuees began flowing out of the region as a cruise ship carrying 1,400 people docked on Saturday in Riviera Beach, Florida, CNN reported. All had documents to enter the United States.

The US Coast Guard said all Bahamian ports had reopened and that it had deployed nine cutters to the islands. Six of its MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters had so far rescued 290 people.

More than 260 Abacos residents arrived on Friday in Nassau, the capital, on a government-chartered ferry, part of the first wave of people to be evacuated off the archipelago's most decimated islands.

Bahamas residents said conditions on the devastated islands were brutal and that the smell of unrecovered bodies, along with mounting piles of garbage, was oppressive and unsanitary.

Hundreds or even thousands of people were still missing, officials said, as search-and-rescue teams continued their grim retrievals.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles (kilometers) north, Dorian, now classified as a post-tropical cyclone, was "wreaking havoc over the Canadian Maritimes", the US-based National Hurricane Center said.

Power outages in Canada

More than 500,000 power outages were reported according to the Canadian Hurricane Center, which said the problem extended across the Maritimes, a three-province region in east Canada comprising Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Dorian made landfall earlier in the day south of the port city of Halifax, home to Canada's Atlantic fleet.

"We're talking about a very dangerous storm," Bob Robichaud of the Canadian Hurricane Center told a news conference.

Television images showed a downpour and howling winds in the empty streets of downtown Halifax where a crane collapsed onto a semi-constructed building and a roof was torn off another apartment.

No significant injuries or fatalities had been reported, according to Halifax Regional Police late on Saturday, The Toronto Star reported.

Police had evacuated 150 people from downtown Halifax, including residents of the apartment buildings, they said.

In the Bahamas, the prime minister has said Nassau "cannot possibly accommodate" all the Abaco victims.

For now, he said, supplies of food and water were adequate, although several witnesses from Abaco contested that.

While Minnis called the loss of life "catastrophic and devastating", Health Minister Duane Sands said the final death toll "will be staggering."

UN relief officials said more than 70,000 people on Grand Bahama and Abaco were in need of assistance. The UN World Food Program was sending food and supplies. The Food Program team estimated that 90 percent of buildings in Marsh Harbour were damaged.

The US Coast Guard, Britain's Royal Navy and private organizations have been helping evacuate island residents to Nassau, hampered by damaged piers and airport runways.

Chamika Durosier was waiting on Saturday at the Abaco airport. The island, she said, was unsafe.

"The home that we were in fell on us," she said. "We had to crawl - got out crawling. By the grace of God, we are alive."


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