U.S. Coast Guard responds to Bahamas; five deaths confirmed

Sept. 2 (UPI) — The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed Monday it sent helicopters to the Bahamas to aid with rescues as Hurricane Dorian continued to ravage the island nation. Five deaths were confirmed.

Dorian, the strongest storm ever to hit the Bahamas, may have destroyed 13,000 homes in the island nation and knocked out water supplies, the Red Cross said Monday.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis spoke briefly about the Coast Guard’s aid in a press conference Monday. He also said the Royal Bahamas Police Force had confirmed at least five deaths.

“The United States guard is already on the ground… and has rescued a number of individuals,” Minnis said. He said the rescued people were taken to the Nassau region, the nation’s capital.

“The devastation is unprecedented and extensive,” Minnis said. “The images and videos we are seeing are heartbreaking. Many homes, businesses, and other buildings have been completely or partially destroyed.”

The Coast Guard had said 20 crews from Miami, Clearwater and Key West, Fla., were prepared to deploy to areas hit by Dorian in the Florida and Bahamas.

The guard’s Jayhawk helicopters with health service technicians had been staged on Andros Island in the Bahamas to respond rapidly.

“On the island of Abaco, extensive flooding is believed to have contaminated wells with saltwater, creating an urgent need for clean water,” a report from the Red Cross said.

“We don’t yet have a complete picture of what has happened. But it is clear that Hurricane Dorian has had a catastrophic impact. We anticipate extensive shelter needs, alongside the need for short-term economic support, as well as for clean water and health assistance,” said Sune Bulow, head of the International Red Cross Emergency Operation Centre in Geneva, Switzerland.

The American Red Cross said it was helping to prepare local evacuation centers expecting to see about 60,000 people in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Dorian is expected to graze the Florida coast as it turns north.

As of Sunday night, the agency said about 2,600 evacuees had sought refuge in 60 Red Cross and community evacuation shelters in Florida. It was mobilizing over 1,600 trained volunteers from all over the country to help.

The storm continued battering the Bahamas on Monday, all but grinding to a halt over Grand Bahama Island as the storm stalled.

The hurricane had turned deadly on Sunday as it leveled a devastating strike on the Bahamas after strengthening to Category 5.

The storm left many communities underwater on three different islands with punishing sustained winds of 185 mph and gusts that reached speeds of 225 mph.

Late Sunday night, the first fatality blamed on Dorian was confirmed in Abaco. Lachino McIntosh, a young boy, drowned and his sister remains missing, according to The Bahamas Press.

“All I can say is that my daughter called from Abaco and said that her son — my grandson — is dead,” the boy’s distraught grandmother, Ingrid McIntosh told Eyewitness News in the Bahamas. “That’s it. I don’t know what really happened. I think she said he drowned.”

She continued through tears, saying, “My grandson is dead,” adding that she’d just seen him two days ago.

The Bahamas Press reported that there was a “growing wall” of photos and notes from residents frantically looking for information about loved ones.

On Monday morning Dorian had stalled about 115 miles east of West Palm Beach, Fla., and only 30 miles east of Freeport in Grand Bahama Island. By Monday afternoon, winds dropped to 145 mph — still a dangerous, strong Category 4 storm.

In Freeport on Grand Bahama Island, residents hunkered down in a church that was being used as a makeshift shelter. Photos and videos surfacing on social media began to reveal a peek at the devastation on the small islands.

Toppled trees, downed power lines, flooding in the streets, and severe structural damage to homes were visible. The Bahamas Press reported that Grand Bahama International Airport was inundated with at least 5 feet of water.

Reports indicated some parts of the nation endured 30 inches of rain in addition to storm surge.

Dorian proved to be a historic hurricane, the strongest ever during modern record-keeping to make landfall in the Bahamas and, with sustained 185-mph winds, it’s now the second-strongest hurricane, by wind speed, ever recorded in the Atlantic basin.

Dorian now stands behind only Hurricane Allen, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic basin. Allen thundered over the Gulf of Mexico in August 1980 and reached sustained wind speeds of 190 mph before making landfall near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Hurricane Dorian made its initial landfall at Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands area of the Bahamas. The eye of Dorian then made a second landfall on Great Abaco Island near Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas.

The third landfall came later on Sunday night, the eye encroaching the eastern end of Grand Bahama Island. Maximum sustained winds were 185-mph during the first two landfalls, dropping to 180 mph for the third. Gusts of 225, as AccuWeather Extreme Meteorologist Reed Timmer pointed out, were equivalent to the winds of an EF4 tornado.

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