Hurricane Dorian: Death toll expected to climb as first responder report 'apocalyptic' devastation


For the people of the Bahamas, the question was not how to rebuild their lives, but how to start again from the very beginning. 
After almost two days spent in the eye of the most intense hurricane that the country has ever seen, the true scale of the impact began to emerge as the first helicopters landed on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis on Wednesday lamented the "generational devastation" wrought by Hurricane Dorian, as it was upgraded to a major Category 3 storm while bearing down on the Carolinas on the US east coast.
Mr Minnis confirmed the storm's death toll had risen to at least 20 during a news conference in which he described the unthinkable damage that parts of his island nation had sustained. Children are believed to be among to dead.
The scenes were described as “apocalyptical” by first responders and images emerged of bodies being loaded onto the back of trucks.
Local media started to compile “walls” of missing people and a single Facebook post by Our News Bahamas seeking the names of missing people had more than 1,600 comments listing lost family members. 

A boat thrown onshore by the Hurricane Dorian lays stranded next to a highway near Freeport, Grand Bahama CREDIT: RAMON ESPINOSA /AP 
The story of Crab fisherman Howard Armstrong was one of the few to have emerged from Freeport on Grand Bahama, and he told how his wife had lost her life.
He told CNN floodwaters had reached the roof of his house and his wife "got hypothermia and she was standing on top of the kitchen cabinets until they disintegrated... I kept with her and she just drowned on me".
Pictures emerged showing entire neighbourhoods reduced to fields of rubble, boats tossed inland like toys as muddy floodwaters covered the islands which were battered by winds up to 185mph.
As rescuers began to reach the islands there were unconfirmed reports of armed men looting in Marsh Harbour, the capital of Abaco, where there was said to be no food, fuel or clean water.
"We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country's history," said Prime Minister Hubert Minnis.
The Mud, a shantytown, has been completely wiped out and as many as 13,000 homes, almost half of those on the islands, may have been destroyed or severely damaged, experts believe.
The world watched in horror on Tuesday and Wednesday as the images of the devastation emerged after the storm made landfall on Sunday.
Pope Francis urged everyone to pray for the victims who in “one day lost their homes, lost everything and lost their lives”.

Boats are strewn across a marina on Andros Island after Hurricane Dorian rips through the Bahamas
The British ship RFA Mounts Bay, which had been stationed in the Caribbean since June in readiness for hurricane season, began distributing aid yesterday including shelter kits. It is understood to have been the only ship in the region with the capability to get such supplies in so quickly.
Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said that the ship’s Wildcat helicopter has begun conducting reconnaissance flights of The Bahamas, population 395,000, to help assess the damage and the crew have begun distributing UK aid.
“My thoughts remain with those affected and our world-class military will continue to assist the Bahamas Government to offer relief and aid to those who need it most," he said.
Teams from the ship are expected to carry out aid missions on the ground in the coming days, International Development Secretary Alok Sharma added: “The images of devastation and destruction across The Bahamas are truly shocking. The clock is now ticking to get help to those in need, and I’m pleased that Mounts Bay has begun to deliver life-saving relief items to those in desperate need.” 
As the winds and rain subsided more than 600 police officers and marines fanned out across Grand Bahama and an additional 100 in Abaco.
"The devastation is unlike anything that we've ever seen before," said Bahama National Security Minister Margin Dames. “We're beginning to get on the ground, get our people in the right places. We have a lot of work in the days and weeks and months ahead." Rescuers used jet skis, boats and even a bulldozer to reach children and adults trapped by the swirling waters. But because of the slow-moving nature of the hurricane, they have for days been struggling to reach people stranded in the decimated landscape, some of whom were understood to be still stuck on their roofs on Wednesday morning. Tens of thousands of people still need food and water.  "It's total devastation. It's decimated. Apocalyptic," said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a hurricane relief group and flew over Abaco. "It's not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again." The coming days will be critical in getting life-saving aid to those in the worst-hit islands, according to Dr Jonathan Stone, who is leading a team of humanitarian experts for the Department for International Development (DfID).  His team has been in Nassau since Monday coordinating with the Bahamas Government and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CEDEMA) and they will focus now on getting aid where it is needed the most. Speaking to The Telegraph after a reconnaissance flight over Grand Bahama, Dr Stone said: “The hurricane sat over the island for more than a day, which is fairly unprecedented. That fact and the damage it causes has prevented access until now. “The situation on the ground was horrible. There were flattened buildings, boats littered through the trees, trees blown down and cars crumpled.” He said the British teams were making a "significant difference" to the rescue efforts.  Yesterday just before lunch local time the first rescue helicopters from Abaco started to land in Nassau. The US coastguard flew the sick and injured in first. They were brought into a hanger at the private Odyssey Aviation airstrip, which was packed with journalists, aid workers and members of the Government and military planning evacuations. The people who were rescued were assessed by medical staff and those who could walk and some in wheelchairs were put onto a waiting bus whilst others were put into the back of ambulances and rushed to hospital with the emergency lights flashing. Officials confirmed that currently, only helicopters could gain access to the worst-hit islands as all the airstrips needed to be assessed before planes could land. Teams had arrived to carry out the work today, but many strips were underwater. Raevyn Bootle, 18, was at the airstrip hoping that her mother, aunt and grandmother would soon be evacuated from Treasure Quay in Abaco.
“We made the first contact on Tuesday after the telephones went down at 11am on Sunday, so at least I now know that they are OK,” she said.  “But we don’t have any homes left, everything is completely destroyed, just wiped away.”
Ensuring people are safe is only the beginning. Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, with a combined population of about 70,000, are two of the largest islands in the country.  Even as people were brought into Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, it was unclear where they would go.
Ms Bootle said: “There will be a huge amount of people completely homeless and they will now have no jobs and no way to rebuild their lives. It is basically devastation, there is nothing left and now we need help, we need supplies.”
Peter Turnquest, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, said the government intends to make formal appeals for assistance as it will take “billions” to rebuild the islands.
“With approximately 70 per cent of the homes underwater, we anticipate tremendous social and economic dislocation and disruption in the short term,” he said.
“The mental health of those who have endured this monster storm is a priority concern of the government.”
Hurricane Dorian, meanwhile, pushed its way northward off the Florida shoreline with reduced but still-dangerous 105 mph (165 kph) winds on a projected course that could sideswipe Georgia and the Carolinas.
An estimated 3 million people in the four states were warned to evacuate.
Donald Trump, whose Mar-a-Lago resort was at one point projected to be in the direct path of the storm, said on Wednesday night: “We got lucky in Florida, very very lucky indeed.” 
He said he hoped the US would “get lucky” in South and North Carolina and Georgia too.