Survivors of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas thronged rescue helicopters on Wednesday and the United Nations said 70,000 people needed immediate humanitarian relief after one of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record devastated the island group.
The most damaging storm to strike the island nation, Dorian killed 20 people when it hit as a highest-level Category 5 storm, Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said.
“We expect that this number will increase,” Minnis told a news conference as the scope of the destruction and humanitarian crisis was still coming into focus.
Aerial video of the worst-hit Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas showed widespread devastation, with the harbor, shops and workplaces, a hospital, and airport landing strips damaged or blown to pieces, all of which is frustrating rescue efforts.
Mark Lowcock, United Nations under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said in a conference call from the Bahamas that around 70,000 people needed food, shelter and medical assistance.
“There is concern that some whole communities’ locations have been destroyed or are underwater or washed away,” he said. “One of the uncertainties is where the people who were living there are now and how to reach them.”
Dozens of people in the Bahamas, with a population of about 400,000, took to Facebook seeking information about missing loved ones. One aid worker described an apocalyptic level of destruction on Great Abaco Island.
“There is no coordination, no communication, and things are going to get worse if that continues,” said medic Tricia Wesolek, 46.
LaQuez Williams, pastor at Jubilee Cathedral in Grand Bahama, who opened the church as a shelter for about 150 people, said he saw people on their rooftops seeking refuge.
“They were calling for help, but you could not go out to reach,” Williams said. “It was very difficult because you felt helpless.”
A Reuters photographer surveying the damage on Grand Bahama island said many hangers at Freeport airport and several aircraft appeared to be severely damaged.
Dorian killed one person in Puerto Rico before hovering over the Bahamas for two days with torrential rains and fierce winds that whipped up 12-18 foot (3.7- to 5.5-meter) storm surges in places.
At 11 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Dorian was about 105 miles (170 km) south of Charleston, South Carolina, the NHC said.
It had strengthened to regain its status as a Category 3 storm late on Wednesday, after passing over warm waters which are a key ingredient in hurricane intensity, the NHC said.