A family is escorted to a safe zone after they were rescued as Hurricane Dorian continues to rain in Freeport, Bahamas, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. The center of Hurricane Dorian is finally moving away from Grand Bahama island but the U.S. National Hurricane Center says the island will continue getting dangerous winds and life-threatening storm surge through the evening.
Associated Press / Ramon Espinosa

Fellow Caribbean Community nations are rushing to the aid of The Bahamas after the most powerful Atlantic storm on record pummeled two of its famous Family Islands but even as authorities begin a sorrowful assessment of the damage, the head of government urged locals to brace for a rising death toll.

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said the seven deaths recorded so far cannot be the final death toll so Bahamians must prepare for higher numbers after ceiling-high flood waters from Hurricane Dorian recede and after search and rescue teams reach affected areas.

Minnis and other officials said Abaco which is east in line of Fort Lauderdale in Florida and in the north of the Bahamian chain of 700 islands, was in a state of complete ruin and a similar situation existed in Grand Bahama which is off Central Florida.

Officials say close to 15,000 homes have been completely flattened or so badly damaged that near term habitation would be impossible. Relief teams in the capital Nassau and other areas pounded only by heavy rain and gusting winds, are preparing food hampers for close to 80,000 rain-soaked and very desperate people. Dorian hit as the archipelago was preparing for a record year of cruise ship arrivals and as the land-based hospitality sector was bracing for similar good fortune.

A shaken Transport Minister Renward Wells said no one “could’ve been prepared for what the country has experienced.” Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest moaned that it would take “hundreds of millions, if not billions” to repair Abaco and Grand Bahama as Category Five winds of above 180 miles per hour not only pounded the two northern islands but stayed over them for hours, dumping tons of rain on the land.

“We have had catastrophic damage to both the public and private infrastructure that will take hundreds of millions, if not billions to fund recovery and reconstruction. With approximately 70 percent of the homes under water, we anticipate tremendous social and economic dislocation and disruption in the short term. The mental health of those who have endured this monster storm is a priority concern of the government,” he said.

As local officials coordinated relief efforts with the US, Caricom response and other international teams, Bahamas’ neighbors lined up to offer assistance to Bahamians in the coming days.

Governments and private sector organizations in Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados and other countries announced plans to send whatever relief items and supplies that are necessary in the same way the mobilized for Dominica, Barbuda and others slammed by hurricanes Maria and Irma back in 2017.

As the international community worked with local officials to recover from Dorian, the US National Hurricane Center Wednesday said it was monitoring four additional systems, two of which could morph into the latest storms as the 2019 storm season peaks.

A storm warning remains in effect near Mexico. Another is located just south of Bermuda, a Caricom associate member, which is about 600 miles east of the Carolinas. Experts warn that the system could bring rain and thunderstorms and has a 40 percent chance of developing into a problem in the coming days. The remaining two are being watched as they come off the coast of West Africa where Atlantic storms normally originate. Antiguan officials like Dale Destin, the head of the local weather service, said one of the storms is headed for the island. Offcials hope it turns away, especially if it develops into a full blown system.

Police said, meanwhile, that criminal elements used the confusion of the storm to loot several stores and warned other to desist in this hour of national catastrophe.

And even before Dorian had made landfall, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) had moved in a team to the Bahamas to respond immediately, while the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency has as well also moved a team there.

Barbados, for example, is mobilizing crews from its electricity service to fly to The Bahamas to restore power, while the Guyana-based Community secretariat said it will as per normal move to coordinate international relief efforts with agencies like the United Nations and others.

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