An aerial view of damage from Hurricane Dorian in Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas, September 3 2019. Picture: BRENDAN SMAILOWSKI/AFP
An aerial view of damage from Hurricane Dorian in Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas, September 3 2019. Picture: BRENDAN SMAILOWSKI/AFP

Nassau, Bahamas — Hurricane Dorian has claimed at least 20 lives, Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert said, warning the storm had caused “generational devastation” as it moved towards the US east coast.

Minnis confirmed the storm’s death toll had risen to at least 20 as he described the damage that parts of his island nation had sustained.

The US Coast Guard and Britain’s Royal Navy airlifted survivors and ferried in emergency supplies as floodwaters receded in the Bahamas, while the centre of the strengthening storm continued towards South Carolina.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Centre said Dorian, which has already wrought damage on its course through the Atlantic, was packing maximum sustained winds of 185km/h, making it a category 3 storm on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale.

The UN said 70,000 people on Grand Bahama and Abaco islands were in “immediate need” of aid.

Minnis issued a warning to looters, saying they will be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law” and announced the deployment of additional police and defence force officers.

Shelter, safe drinking water, food and medicine were urgently needed for 50,000 people on Grand Bahama and 15,000-20,000 on Abaco, UN emergency relief coordinator Mark Lowcock said.

“Speed is of the essence,” Red Cross official Stephen McAndrew said of rescue operations on the two northernmost islands in the Bahamas archipelago which were pummelled by one of the strongest Atlantic storms on record.

Among the many charities deployed, chef Jose Andres and his organisation, World Central Kitchen, are working on the island of Abaco. “Hopefully I will restore the faith and the soul and the hope of the people one meal at a time,” Andres said.

People on Grand Bahama were using jet skis and boats to pluck victims from homes flooded and pulverised by heavy rain and lashing winds from the monster storm.

Medical evacuations

US and British helicopters were conducting medical evacuations, aerial assessments to help co-ordinate relief efforts, and reconnaissance flights to assess the damage.

President Donald Trump spoke by telephone to the Bahamian leader and pledged US assistance, the White House said.

“A big section of the Bahamas was hit like few people have seen before,” Trump said. “They need a big hand.”

Aerial footage showed scenes of catastrophic damage in Abaco with hundreds of homes missing roofs, cars submerged or overturned, widespread flooding and boats reduced to matchwood.

As rescue efforts ramped up, Dorian was expected to continue approaching the coast of South Carolina, before moving near or over the coast of North Carolina tonight the National Hurricane Centre. It had, however, left Florida largely unscathed.

“We got lucky in Florida, very, very lucky indeed,” Trump said.

Life-threatening storm surge with coastal flooding was expected along large parts of the southeast and mid-Atlantic coast over the following days, the National Hurricane Centre said.

The centre predicted the Carolinas could be hit with dangerous storm surge of up to 2.1m.

Larry Lewis, who runs Paradise Watersports in the city of Freeport on Grand Bahama, said most of the floodwaters had receded but some roads remained impassable. He said few stores were open. “I saw a lot of people scrapping for something to eat.”

Roberto Smith, who was born in Abaco but now lives in Florida, said he was worried about his family.

“I spoke to my dad on the night of the hurricane, on Sunday night, and his roof blew up,” Smith said. “I haven’t spoken to him since then. I am really worried. The island is devastated. There is no power, no running water, no electricity.”

The US Coast Guard said it had rescued 61 people, including 19 injured patients from Abaco island’s Marsh Harbour clinic who were flown to Nassau on Tuesday.

USAID, the US relief agency, said it was airlifting supplies such as plastic sheeting for shelter, hygiene kits and water from Miami. A British landing ship, the RFA Mounts Bay, launched boats carrying supplies for Marsh Harbour on Abaco and Britain’s Department for International Development said it had deployed a team of three humanitarian experts.

“The clock is now ticking to get help to those in need,” British International Development Secretary Alok Sharma said.

AFP