Families worry about loved ones in Bahamas; concern mounts after 5 deaths in island chain

As raging floodwaters pummeled whatever stood in their way and 150-mile-plus winds ripped off roofs, Bahamians battered by Hurricane Dorian added names of their relatives to an ever-growing list of hurricane victims yet to be accounted for.

At least five people have died in the Bahamas, and at least 21 were injured, Bahamas Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said Monday evening.

Videos posted on social media from the Bahamas showed entire towns inundated with water, trapped residents busting through the ceilings of their homes and others perched precariously on their roofs waiting for help.

On the social-messaging app WhatsApp, nearly 200 people with family members on the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas were posting the names and photos of loved ones they had yet to get in contact with. The islands endured more than a day of thrashing from Dorian over the weekend before it made landfall on Grand Bahama on Monday and stalled, whipping up winds of 155 mph in the afternoon.

Samantha James, of Fort Lauderdale, was trying Monday to get in touch with her uncle in Marsh Harbour on the Abaco Islands. But she could not get through and feared the worst.

“I really don’t want nothing happening to him,” she said in a text message. “It was just reported that one of his friends has a broken rib and arm, so I’m praying he’s alive and well.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers and nonprofits in South Florida were gearing up to provide aid to the Bahamas.

“All of us are trying to work together to be ready to head to the Bahamas to give them the much needed relief that we know will be required,” said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, who has family in the Abaco Islands and elsewhere in the Bahamas.

Wilson, who represents southern Broward and northern Miami-Dade counties, said she was working with leaders from Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami, the NAACP and African-American churches in her district to provide relief to hurricane-ravaged households in the Bahamas.

She said the U.S. Coast Guard would conduct search-and-rescue operations, and that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would provide relief.

“As soon as the storm clears, they’re going to be doing search and rescue,” she said. “In other words, they’re looking for any fatalities. They’re [the Coast Guard] also working with USAID where they have stationed commodities, water and ice in the area, which will be going into the Bahamas to help the people there.”

The Democratic congresswoman said she has family members in Freeport and in Nassau who are safe. But her relatives in the Abaco Islands remain unaccounted for, she said.

“This is truly a catastrophic storm,” she said. “We’re just praying for the best.”

Florida Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Broward County Democrat, posted a video to Twitter on Sunday night showing his family’s Freeport home being ravaged by strong winds and rain. The roof was missing.

“Everyone is really just trying to stay calm and stay put until they are rescued,” he said. “The good thing is that no one in my family needs to be rescued.”

Andy Ingraham, a native Bahamian and Fort Lauderdale resident, is working with the Bahamas Consul General office in Miami to help coordinate the response.

Ingraham said several meetings have been held in the last 24 hours with Miami-Dade and Broward leaders to help coordinate. The city of Miami said Monday that its fire stations would be drop-off points for supplies being sent to the Bahamas.

“We are working with airlines, shipping companies,” he said. “To me, having a great plan will enable us to react and build the Bahamas back as quickly as possible while at the same time saving lives.”

Ingraham said it’s too early to say what exactly will be needed because the government is waiting for the storm’s passing in order to do an assessment.

“We are in touch with all of the officials that are handling the disaster,” said Ingraham, who is originally from the island of Eleuthera, which was spared but felt some of the effects of Hurricane Dorian on Sunday. “The government has not issued much information because they are still doing an assessment. They are waiting to get in there.”

In a WhatsApp group that Ingraham started, a number of individuals and businesses have already volunteered their assistance.

“Obviously, the Bahamas has sustained catastrophic damage and we are asking not only for help but for your prayers,” Ingraham said. “This is catastrophic and obviously there are some fatalities that have yet to be confirmed. Our effort is to put in place a plan with all of the friends of the Bahamas and Bahamians alike so that we can immediately mobilize.”

On Sunday, Minnis, the prime minister, said the U.S. Embassy in Nassau had reached out to provide assistance, and other Caribbean governments had called him to say they have teams ready to assist the country as it experiences its worst hurricane in history.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency is in the Bahamas and has been holding daily debriefing and operational planning sessions on the response following the announcement of the “All Clear.”

Chef José Andrés, the celebrity cook and founder of World Central Kitchen, traveled to the Bahamas before the storm made landfall and plans to provide food and water to the people of the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama this week.

In an interview with ZNS Bahamas, Andrés said aid was on the way.

“I know now it’s hard to listen to this, but help is coming,” he said. “Hopefully, every day will get a slightly bit better.”