Search and rescue teams in the Bahamas are scouring communities with cadaver dogs looking for both victims and survivors of Hurricane Dorian, which devastated Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands in the strongest hurricane ever recorded to hit the archipelago nation, according to PBS.
The official death toll has risen to 43; thirty-five on Abaco Island and eight in Grand Bahama, and is expected to increase even more according to top officials. An estimated 70,000 people are now homeless between the two islands, according to the United Nations.
"We acknowledge that there are many missing and that the number of deaths is expected to significantly increase," said Prime Minister Hubert Minnis. "This is one of the stark realities we are facing in this hour of darkness."
On Saturday morning, several hundred people, many of them Haitian immigrants, waited at Abaco’s Marsh Harbour in hopes of leaving the disaster zone on vessels arriving with aid. Bahamian security forces were organizing evacuations on a landing craft. Other boats, including yachts and other private craft, were also helping to evacuate people. -PBS
"It was like an atomic bomb went off," said Sherrie Roberts, who was on the Abaco Islands when Dorian struck last week as a Category 5 storm according to CNN.
Now, the islands are facing a "humanitarian crisis" according to the Bahamian financial services ministry in a Friday statement, while Health Minister Duane Sands told Guardian Radio that the public should prepare for "unimaginable information about the death toll and the human suffering."
"When we were driving up, we could smell ... death," said CNN's Patrick Oppman, describing his trip into Bevans Town on Grand Bahama. Oppman added that the area is in ruins. "Every house, every structure, every life has been essentially destroyed in this area."
At present, efforts are underway to rescue evacuees by the hundreds - including on a cruise ship expected to arrive Saturday morning in Florida according to the report.
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.
The smell of death lingered in the air in Marsh Harbour, CNN's Gary Tuchman said Friday has he toured hard-hit areas there. Workers also brought equipment to count the dead and to understand the scope of damage, Jibrilu said.
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.
More than 1,550 evacuees are expected to arrive Saturday morning aboard the Grand Celebration humanitarian cruise ship in West Palm Beach, Florida, the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line said on Facebook.
US Customs and Border Protection is working with the cruise line to process the passengers when they arrive.
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. -CNN
According to the International Organization for Migration, a thousand plastic tarpaulins will be provided to replace roofs which were blown off of homes.
By Friday, the US Coast Guard had rescued over 230 people.
"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," said Ted Curry - one of 300 people trying to catch a flight to the Capital of Nassau to stay with family.