Ravaged infrastructure slowed down search and recovery efforts in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian left behind a mess of splintered buildings, torn-off roofs, snapped power poles and scattered vehicles.
The death toll is now at 44, Health Minister Duane Sands said Sunday. That number is expected to rise drastically, officials said. Hundreds remain missing, likely buried under rubble on Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands by the strongest hurricane ever to hit the archipelago nation.
“It was like an atomic bomb went off,” said Sherrie Roberts, who was on the Abaco Islands when Dorian struck a week ago as a Category 5 monster, then lingered for days over the same wrecked places.
Search and rescue personnel arrived with cadaver dogs, body bags and coolers to store human remains, said Joy Jibrilu, director general of the country’s tourism and aviation ministry.
Workers also brought equipment to count the dead and to understand the scope of damage, Jibrilu said.
Residents are trying to leave ravaged islands
Some have left the devastated areas for other parts of the nation or elsewhere.
About 1,400 evacuees arrived Saturday in Palm Beach, Florida, aboard the Grand Celebration humanitarian cruise ship.
Pat Allard, 83, of Massachusetts said she went to the Bahamas before the storm to take care of her condo. She held back tears as she described the horrors of the hurricane.
“The roof caved in. The walls fell in. It was flooded. It was awful,” she said, recounting that she moved to four different units in her condo building for safety. “But I’m here. I made it.”
All the evacuees are properly documented to enter the United States, according to Customs and Border Protection. Spokesman Michael Silva said all 1,437 are either US citizens, US residents or non-US citizens with visas, or had other proper documentation to enter the country.
The cruise line said it filled the ship with food, water, personal hygiene products, medical equipment, generators, volunteers and first responders, and headed to the island to provide first aid.
At Marsh Harbour, hundreds of people lined up to take a ferry back to Nassau.
Many recounted horrific stories of surviving the storm by breaking through roofs or swimming onto boats to try to ride out the storm.
Some reported family members still missing, and said they witnessed friends and neighbors drown in the storm surge.
Ted Curry was one of more than 300 people waiting at the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport trying to get a flight to Nassau, the nation’s capital. Hundreds more had grown tired of waiting and made their way to the island’s main port.
“The island of Abaco has been through and survived many hurricanes in the past. It didn’t take long for us to rebound, but this is different from anything we’ve ever experienced. This hurricane will set us back for years to come,” he said.
In the neighborhoods of the wrecked islands, evidence of the disaster is everywhere.
“When we were driving up, we could smell … death,” CNN’s Patrick Oppmann said about Bevans Town on the island of Grand Bahama. The area is in ruins, he said.