The scope of the calamity that Hurricane Dorian brought to the Bahamas is becoming clear, as rescue workers reach devastated sections of the island chain. The official death toll now stands at 20, but that number is expected to rise sharply in the coming days.
Dorian is now a Category 2 hurricane, lashing the southeastern coastline of the United States. It remains dangerous, despite being downgraded from the Category 5 rank it carried into the Bahamas.
Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Dorian left "generational devastation" and is asking for prayers for families of the deceased. The islands of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama were inundated by a punishing storm surge, as Dorian essentially parked over the Bahamas for two days.
As photos and videos vividly illustrate, Dorian razed entire neighborhoods and destroyed docks. Some local airports remain under several feet of water, days after the hurricane moved away over the Atlantic Ocean.
Parts of Grand Abaco — where the storm came ashore as a Category 5 on Sunday with wind gusts exceeding 220 mph and a deadly storm surge — are still reachable only by helicopter or small watercraft, such as jet skis.
"Abaco was essentially decimated," Minnis told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly on Thursday's All Things Considered.
Estimating that roughly 60% of the homes on Abaco were destroyed, Minnis said, "Thousands of individuals are now homeless."
Although many of the hardest-hit areas have been difficult to reach, stories are now coming to light of Bahamians who survived the storm.
Krystel Brown of The Nassau Guardian newspaper relayed the harrowing story of Adrian Farrington, whom she met at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, the capital. He had been airlifted there from Abaco.
Farrington was trying to escape Dorian's powerful storm surge with his young son, Brown told NPR's Noel King on Morning Edition.
"He told us about a terrifying 24 hours that he spent outside weathering the catastrophic conditions with his son on his back" as he treaded water, she says.
Brown says the storm surge was about 20 feet, and Farrington had to resort to breaking in to "several homes to try to seek shelter." At one point, Brown says, Farrington put his 5-year-old son on a roof.
As Farrington was trying to join the boy on the rooftop, Brown says, a storm surge "knocked his son on the other side of the house into the murky waters below. And he's never seen his son since."
Farrington, Brown says, eventually made it to higher ground to look for his son. But after doing so, he discovered he couldn't walk because his leg was broken. So he resorted to crawling on the ground. He eventually located a church, but he wasn't safe there either.
Once inside the structure, Farrington noticed a wall swaying — and eventually it collapsed on several people in the church. He is not sure if there were any survivors.
Farrington was rescued some eight hours later, Brown says.
The catastrophic damage that Dorian left behind is difficult to put into perspective. Reporting from Nassau, NPR's Jason Beaubien said that in some places the destruction is "just almost total."
"They're saying that some communities, some poor neighborhoods, have been just completely destroyed," Beaubien told NPR's Morning Edition.
He described boats strewn "all over the place," with debris and mud scattered over wide swaths of land.
"Really, at this point, they're just trying to figure out how to get in there and operate, because the airports are underwater and even, like, the ports are destroyed. So the level of destruction is really pretty amazing," Beaubien said.
International search and rescue teams continue to comb the islands for survivors and those in need of help. The U.S. Coast Guard said it had rescued 135 people and six pets as of Thursday morning; a British Royal Navy vessel has been distributing food and water.
A preliminary estimate by Karen Clark & Company, a firm specializing in catastrophe modeling, puts the total loss for the Bahamas at $7 billion, "including building, contents, and business interruption exposures." That estimate does not take into account automobile or infrastructure losses.
Several relief groups have pledged to assist the Bahamas with relief and recovery efforts. The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross are rushing to get food and medical supplies to people in need. Private sector companies including the Walt Disney Co., Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Line say they will chip in to support the Bahamas.
In the Bahamas, there are fears that tensions may rise as people in dire need of food, water and other supplies become increasingly desperate.
"Eventually, I feel like there's going to be some real chaos of people trying to survive," Javon Cambridge told NPR, describing the scene after he was evacuated from Marsh Harbour.
"There's no water. They're collecting rainwater. And they're flushing their toilets with water from off the road," Cambridge said.
"It's really an emotional time for Bahamians," said Brown of The Nassau Guardian. "We still believe that there are many more people that need help."
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