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Nancy Smith

The Bahamas Cries for Help: Humanitarian Crisis on an Unimaginable Scale

September 4, 2019 - 8:00am
Flattened Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas, Sept. 3, 2019
Flattened Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas, Sept. 3, 2019

As dawn breaks Wednesday, the world is seeing what a tourist-dependent island nation looks like when a powerful hurricane smashes it to bits: mile upon mile of flooded neighborhoods, shredded homes and businesses, overturned boats and vehicles, and trees stripped of vegetation. 

Like Mexico Beach during Hurricane Michael, only Dorian had lashed the islands at major-hurricane strength for an unprecedented 36 hours.

On Tuesday night Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said the official death toll was seven. But he acknowledged social media's display of a still-growing list of 1,600 missing persons.

As reported by Reuters, in his first press conference, Minnis warned, "We can expect more deaths to be recorded. This is just preliminary information. Marsh Harbor has suffered, I would estimate, in excess of 60 percent damage to their homes." Marsh Harbor is the port on Great Abaco.

Coast Guardsmen rescue people on small boats
Coast Guardsmen rescue people on small boats
He said one of the port city's poorer neighborhoods -- called The Mud -- was so decimated it has disappeared entirely. Not a stick left.

Minnis told reporters he "saw people waving for help in a community near Coopers Town on Great Abaco, after it was cut off by floods.

"There were around 30 people trapped and waving yellow flags, sheets and shirts to bring our attention to their survival."

Reuters also reported one Twitter poster with the handle @mvp242 described "a rain-blurred photograph of limp bodies strewn across a truck bed" on Great Abaco Island. "Other Twitter messages said whole communities were swept away."

Dozens of horrific videos have been posted on Twitter, taken by the people living them. One of them shows water rising up menacingly inside a two-story home, as a sofa and other furniture float to the second floor. Another shows residents trying swim through deep water, from one home to another through the surge.

"In another," says the Reuters report, "a woman repeatedly says, 'Please pray for us,' after the storm ripped the roof off her apartment building, exposing her, and other residents, to the elements as she struggled to shelter her 4-month-old baby.

"'Some people, the water just sucked them,' she said. 'Some people didn't make it.'"

The power had long been lost. For two nights running, Sunday and Monday, Bahamians were fighting to survive, living their crashing, watery nightmare, in the pitch black.

“It’s like we just need to be rescued and put on another island to start over again. Complete devastation,” said Cindy Russell, a resident of Marsh Harbour, in an interview with the Nassau Guardian.

The Red Cross estimated more than 13,000 houses, or about 45 percent of the homes in Grand Bahama and Abaco, were likely severely damaged or destroyed, according to the Associated Press. Close to 62,000 people on the islands are without clean drinking water, and U.N. officials say more than 60,000 will need food.

One of the most comprehensive reports on the horror Bahamians lived during the past three days, including photos, videos and social media postings, can be found here.

Meanwhile, a massive South Florida humanitarian effort is kicking into gear. Rescue teams, pilots, fishing captains, churches and charities are ready to respond with donations of relief supplies. By Wednesday -- today, they say -- winds will have subsided enough for them to go in.

“The big issue is the storm being stationary for so long. The wind conditions are still too miserable to get a prop plane in there,” says Edward Smith, an emergency medicine physician helping coordinate a relief effort with Global Empowerment Mission, a Miami nonprofit that responds to all kinds of international disasters.

“I think the chances of flying in a plane are pretty limited for the next 24-48 hours,” Smith said.

An air ambulance did take off Tuesday afternoon from the Tamiami airport in southern Miami. It was funded through a GoFundMe page  created by celebrity chef Ingrid Hoffmann. The Colombian-American chef is trying to raise another $20,000 to make a total of 12 flights to rescue injured people specifically needing hospitalization.

The mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Gimenez, announced Tuesday the county's search and rescue team of firefighters, Florida Task Force One, is ready to be deployed. “We have sent this team all over the world," the mayor said. "They are part of a federal system and just waiting for White House authorization to respond.”

Read about the other campaigns South Floridians are leading to help with this catastrophic crisis for our island neighbors. These folks, thank God, are trying to work quickly.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith


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