Monster storm Dorian stalled over the Bahamas Monday as surging seawaters and ferocious winds sowed chaos in low-lying island communities, claiming at least five lives and spurring mass evacuations on the US east coast.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis termed the hurricane a “historic tragedy” for the archipelago.
“Thus far, the Royal Bahamas Police Force has confirmed that there are five deaths in Abaco,” Minnis told a news conference, referring to the islands where Dorian made landfall as a Category 5 storm on Sunday, packing blistering winds of 290 kilometers per hour (185 miles per hour).
“Teams will go to Abaco as soon as possible for a full and proper assessment and identification,” he said.
As Dorian ground to a standstill, pounding Grand Bahama further to the west of the island chain, the Bahamas tourism and aviation ministry announced the start of rescue operations “in parts where it is safe.”
For many, the wait for help to arrive has been terrifying.
A text message seen by AFP from a woman named Kendra Williams, who lives on Grand Bahama said: “We are under water; we are up in the ceiling. Can someone please assist us or send some help. Please. Me and my six grandchildren and my son, we are in the ceiling.”
Abaco resident Ramond A. King captured scenes of devastation in footage provided to AFP, showing flooded streets strewn with trees and downed power lines and at least one home washed clearly away.
“Look at this,” he can be heard saying. “We need help, everything down. Everything down. Look at my roof off, my house. I still got life. Thank God for life. I can rebuild.”
“The tornado came from around this side… My neighbor used to live there. His house ain’t even there.”
Dorian weakened slightly Monday to a still-devastating Category 4 storm, punishing Grand Bahama with “life-threatening storm surge and catastrophic winds,” the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest bulletin.
At 2100 GMT, the hurricane was virtually stationary, the NHC said, whipping the Caribbean island with torrential rains and winds of 145 miles per hour.
Fear gripped residents of Freeport, as winds tore off shutters and water began coming into homes, said Yasmin Rigby, reached by text in the Grand Bahama island’s main city.
“People who thought they were safe are now calling for help,” Rigby said. “My best friend’s husband is stuck in the roof of their house with seven feet (2 meters) water below.”
Initial Red Cross estimates were that 13,000 buildings may have been damaged or destroyed by Dorian, officials in Geneva said.