More than 75,000 people could need food and other aid in the Bahamas after the Caribbean nation was ravaged by Hurricane Dorian, the UN’s World Food Programme said on Thursday, with eight tonnes of supplies ready to arrive.
Stunned residents of the Bahamas surveyed the wreckage of their homes and officials struggled to assess the number killed by Dorian, as the storm bore down on the South Carolina coast on Thursday, threatening record flooding.
Aerial video of the worst-hit Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas showed widespread devastation, with the harbour, shops, workplaces, a hospital and airport landing strips damaged or decimated, frustrating rescue efforts.
One of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record, Dorian was rated a Category 5 hurricane when it killed at least 20 people in the Bahamas. Authorities expect that number to rise, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said at a news briefing, as retreating floodwaters revealed the scope of destruction.
One of the storm survivors on the Abaco Islands, Ramond King, said he watched as swirling winds ripped the roof off his house, then churned to a neighbour’s home to pluck the entire structure into the sky.
“‘This can’t be real, this can’t be real’,” King recalled thinking. “Nothing is here, nothing at all. Everything is gone, just bodies.”
With telephones down in many areas, residents posted lists of missing loved ones on social media. One Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas had 2,500 comments, mainly listing lost family members.
Al Jazeera’s Manuel Rapalo, reporting from Abaco, said, “This is about as bad as hurricane damage can get.”
Rapalo added that “people are just getting their bearings” but “the Bahamian people are incredibly resilient”.
An international relief effort was under way for the island nation, with a British Royal Navy vessel providing assistance and Jamaica sending a 150-member military contingent to help secure Abaco and Grand Bahama, officials said.
The US Agency for International Development said a flight with enough relief supplies to help 31,500 people landed in the islands early on Thursday, taking hygiene kits, water containers and buckets, plastic sheeting and chain saws.
Also arriving was a disaster assistance response team (DART) plane that included a fire and rescue team from Fairfax County, Virginia, to help the authorities search for survivors, USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance said on Twitter.
Volunteers also ferried supplies to the islands in a flotilla of small boats.
As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.
Norwegian energy company Equinor said it had discovered a spill on the ground outside tanks at its damaged storage terminal in the Bahamas, but was unclear on volumes and had not seen any oil at sea.
Meanwhile, Dorian was barrelling north-northeast just off the coast of the United States on Thursday, moving at about 13 kilometres per hour with 175km/h winds, the top strength of a Category 2 storm on the five-point Saffir-Simpson wind scale.
More than 2.2 million people in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina had been ordered to evacuate, but Florida avoided a direct hit.
The storm was about 80km east-southeast of flood-prone Charleston, South Carolina, at 11am EST (15:00 GMT), the US National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.
“Dorian will continue to move close to the coast of South Carolina today, and then move near or over the coast of North Carolina tonight and Friday,” the NHC said.
The Carolinas should expect storm surges, wind, heavy rainfall and tornadoes, the NHC said. The storm surge warning covered parts of the coast from Georgia to southern Virginia.
The streets of downtown Charleston were all but deserted early on Thursday.
About 30cm of rain will drop on the city and many parts of the coast of the Carolinas on Thursday and Friday, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
“It’s pretty substantial,” he said. “It’s already raining heavy in Charleston and up and down the coast.”
More than 210,000 homes and businesses were without power in South Carolina and Georgia, according to local electric companies.