'Total devastation... Apocalyptic'
Hurricane Dorian leaves Bahamas facing 'greatest national crisis'
For the people of the Bahamas, the question yesterday was not how to rebuild their lives but how to start again from the very beginning.
After nearly two days spent in the eye of the most intense hurricane that the country has ever seen, the true scale of the impact only began to emerge as the first helicopters landed on the worst-hit islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama.
The official death toll stood at seven last night, but the true losses were expected to be much higher. Children are believed to be among the dead.
The scenes were described as "apocalyptical", with images emerging of bodies being loaded on to the back of trucks and local media outlets starting to compile "walls" of missing people.
A single Facebook post by 'Our News Bahamas' seeking the names of missing people had more than 1,600 comments listing lost family members in just 24 hours. The islands have a population of 395,000.
On social media, people were begging for information on entire families who could not be contacted.
The story of Howard Armstrong, a crab fisherman, was one of the few to have emerged from Freeport, on Grand Bahama, and he told how his wife had lost her life.
He told CNN that floodwaters had reached the roof of his house and his wife "got hypothermia and she was standing on top of the kitchen cabinets until they disintegrated... I kept with her and she just drowned on me".
Pictures emerged showing entire neighbourhoods reduced to fields of rubble.
Boats were tossed inland like toys as muddy floodwaters covered the islands which were battered by winds with speeds of up to 300kmh.
As rescuers began to reach the islands there were unconfirmed reports of armed men looting in Marsh Harbour, the capital of Abaco, where there was said to be no food, fuel or clean water. "We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country's history," said Prime Minister Hubert Minnis.
The Mud, a shanty town, has been completely wiped out and as many as 13,000 homes, almost half of those on the islands, may have been destroyed or severely damaged, experts believe.
The world watched in horror yesterday and Tuesday as the images of the devastation emerged after the storm made landfall on Sunday. Pope Francis urged everyone to pray for the victims who, in one day, "lost their homes, lost everything, lost their lives".
British ship RFA Mounts Bay, which had been stationed in the Caribbean since June in readiness for hurricane season, began distributing aid yesterday, including shelter kits. It is understood to have been the only ship in the region with the capability to get such supplies in so quickly.
As the winds and rain subsided, more than 600 police officers and marines fanned out across Grand Bahama and an additional 100 in Abaco. "The devastation is unlike anything that we've ever seen before," said the Bahamas' National Security Minister Margin Dames.
"We're beginning to get on the ground, get our people in the right places. We have a lot of work in the days and weeks and months ahead."
Rescuers used jet skis, boats and even a bulldozer to reach children and adults trapped by the swirling waters.
However, the slow-moving nature of the hurricane has meant that for days they have struggled to reach people stranded in the decimated landscape, some of whom were still believed to be stranded on rooftops yesterday morning. Tens of thousands of people still need food and water.
"It's total devastation. It's decimated. Apocalyptic," said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a hurricane relief group and flew over Abaco. "It's not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again."
Hurricane Dorian, meanwhile, pushed its way northward off the Florida shoreline with dangerous 170kmh winds on a projected course that could sideswipe Georgia and the Carolinas.
An estimated three million people in the four states were warned to evacuate.
© Daily Telegraph London