One month after Hurricane Dorian brutalised the Bahamas leaving the island of Abaco virtually obliterated, international news reports say the recovery effort is “slow and uneven” as hundreds remain listed as missing.
Hardest hit by the storm, heavy machinery “is just now beginning to come in to help remove debris” and there is still no electricity or running water in Abaco’s main commercial town of Marsh Harbour.
Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis has called the storm “an unprecedented destructive force of wind and rain and sea surge”.
“It tore into the islands of the northern Bahamas with 185 mph sustained winds gusting to 200 mph and beyond. Then it stalled. Lingering in place, its cataclysmic force shredded buildings, flipped trucks, tossed trailers like dice and shoved up to 20 feet of seas inland,” he said.
Minnis also pleaded with the United Nations General Assembly to heed the warning of this “generational tragedy” and to “treat the global climate emergency as the greatest challenge facing humanity”.
A USA Today report said: “His government created a ministry called Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction.
“The difficulty of reaching some of the hardest-hit areas made immediate damage assessments impossible, and dysfunctional power grids, spotty cell service, blocked roads and wrecked drinking water systems further complicated efforts.
“Even now, the country has nothing approximating a complete death count – only a temporary tally of 56.
“The numbers are likely to surge once collected bodies go through the complicated identification process and those on the missing list, which numbers 608, are eventually written off as lost forever.
“It was nearly a year before Puerto Rico arrived at its final death toll of 2,975 for 2018’s Hurricane Maria,” the report added.
Countless families will never have full closure because “a lot of people were washed out to sea”.
One pathologist said: “We’ll never know the exact amount of people gone from the Abacos.
“It’s hard on me because some of the people who lost their life in the storm, you actually know who they are.
“When families come hoping to find their loved ones, they are not allowed to identify bodies right now.
“We have to send the samples to Nassau, and then Nassau will get it back to us, and then we will go from there.
“Once received, the dead are recorded and placed in the truck. Tissue must be shipped to the capital, tested by another set of officials and cross-referenced with databases in hopes of a positive identification,” he added.
As of Friday, more than 600 people were still listed as missing.
“Visitors are told to wear face masks before approaching the community, but they do little to shield the odor of rotting flesh, a constant reminder of the catastrophe that befell the island,” the report continued.
“Some risk modeling estimates put the Bahamas’ overall hurricane losses at over $7 billion. More than 13,000 homes were destroyed.
“The Bahamian government said this week that Abaco and Grand Bahama, alone, had lost $60 million in crops and marine resources.
Moving forward, the report said: “The long-term impact of Hurricane Dorian remains uncertain.
“It will take a long time to get back to normal. Or rather, a new normal. Dorian took with it everything that is basic to life: hospitals, schools, roads, gas stations, grocery stores.”
The few “lucky” residents who rely on their generators “attempt to find fuel and food before sundown” and wait for gas for “frustratingly” long periods.
Several public schools remain closed, “partly because of a lack of safe drinking water for young students”.
“Other schools awaited the slow process of assessments by engineers that buildings wouldn’t collapse once classes filled with returning children,” the report said.
The “sprawling island geography of the Bahamas and the extensive damage to infrastructure” also presented “challenges in distribution of food and supplies”.
“Residents have taken to burning debris in some areas, as they pick up the mess Dorian left behind,” the report added.
“In hard-hit Abaco, Dorian deposited cars and boats onto people’s yards. Shipping containers weighing 2 tons flew like missiles from the port miles away to land on lawns.”
Now heading for a second month since Dorian, another report said: “Bahamians are left to assess the loss and devise a plan to recovery.
“They are unsure how they will forge ahead when many are still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.”
An American Red Cross spokeswoman said the timeline for the recovery effort was unpredictable.
“Losing your neighborhood, source of income, school, and sense of security all at once is heartbreaking,” she said.
“Recovery from Hurricane Dorian won’t be just about clearing rubble and rebuilding—it will be about addressing people’s needs and meeting them where they are, so they can determine their own recovery alongside the government.”