BAHAMAS — Volunteers with search dogs continue to scour neighborhoods flattened by Hurricane Dorian, while global relief agencies are rushing to get food and shelter Saturday to some 70,000 people in the Bahamas left homeless.
The death toll, now at 43, is expected to rise drastically, officials said, as hundreds remain missing, 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 survived on the Abaco Islands when Dorian struck almost a week ago as a Category 5 monster, then lingered for days over the same wrecked places.
The situation has devolved into a “humanitarian crisis,” the Bahamian financial services ministry said Friday in a statement. Efforts are underway to move evacuees by the hundreds to safety, including on a cruise ship that arrived Saturday morning in Palm Beach, Florida.
Search and rescue personnel who arrived with cadaver dogs on the Abaco Islands brought 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.
The smell of death lingered in the air in Marsh Harbour, CNN’s Gary Tuchman reported Friday, as he toured hard-hit areas there.
Tuchman accompanied U.S. Coast Guard and city of Miami paramedics as they conducted a grim search through rubble in Marsh Harbour Saturday. The crews found the body of a woman buried in the layers of rubble that now blanket the neighborhood.
Local firefighters told Tuchman they expect many more bodies will be found in the area.
Ravaged infrastructure has impeded search and recovery efforts, as the islands remain a mess of splintered buildings, torn-off roofs, snapped power poles and scattered vehicles.
At least 70,000 people are homeless on Abaco and Grand Bahama, the United Nations estimated early Saturday. A thousand tarpaulins — strong pieces of waterproof plastic– will be provided to replace roofs that were stripped from homes, the International Organization for Migration said.
Residents are trying to leave ravaged islands
About 1,400 evacuees arrived aboard the Grand Celebration humanitarian cruise ship on Saturday morning in Palm Beach, Florida.
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 US, 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.