US officials and colleagues around the world sent an urgent request for help to the Bahamas after the northernmost islands of the archipelago were pulverized by Hurricane Dorian.
Thousands of residents of the Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands are homeless, stranded by floods and are likely to suffer shortages of food, water and medicines that will worsen without the swift action of the international community, according to coordinated UN messages. state department, US embassy in Nassau, and local officials.
"We are in the midst of a historical tragedy," said Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis. "The devastation is unprecedented and extensive."
The scale of the humanitarian disaster began to emerge after the slow storm, which took about 36 hours to cross Grand Bahama, eight kilometers long, finally left the country on Tuesday afternoon.
The storm hit Abaco Island on Sunday as an 5 category hurricane, with gusts of up to 220 mph - making it the strongest Atlantic storm to hit land, linked to the 1935 Labor Day hurricane.
In a country accustomed to harrowing encounters with violent storms, Dorian was marked as a disaster on another scale.
"Dorian won't really walk away," said a tweet from the newspaper in Freeport, Grand Bahama's main city, on Tuesday morning. "Heavy rain. This hurricane will totally destroy this island.
The dire consequences have been visible since Abaco and Grand Bahama's first helicopter flyby on Tuesday. The video footage showed lakes of seawater instead of streets, wrecked debris from houses, boats thrown inward like discarded toys, and the occasional lonely structure still standing. In many areas island life simply seemed to have been erased.
“It's a total devastation. Apocalyptic. It looks like a bomb exploded, ”said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a local hurricane relief organization, to the Associated Press. "We'll have to build it all over again."
Emergency access was threatened by flooding at Freeport International Airport, where runways were below 1,5m of water. Freeport's main hospital was also flooded and about 13.000 houses were destroyed.
Flooding drove residents to the rooftops, water licking the second-floor sills and water driving against the shaking glass. There was waist-high water in the streets and higher that residents were struggling to swim or walk safely.
Freeport is about 70 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida, and is a popular cruise ship and tourist destination, with over 1 million visitors a year.
"The # Bahamas need our help," tweeted on Tuesday Francis Suarez, mayor of Miami, Florida.
"Our prayers are with our Bahamas friends when they face the aftermath of Hurricane #Dorian," tweeted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The USAID relief agency requested "urgently needed humanitarian assistance."
On Tuesday afternoon, five people were killed in the Bahamas by the storm, and the US Coast Guard transported at least 21 injured people on Abaco Island. Marvin Dames, Bahamian National Security Minister, said the death toll should increase.
"It was a crisis of epic proportions," he told reporters. “The reality of all this is that, unfortunately, we will see more deaths. I don't see how to escape it. “
A radio station said it had received more than 2.000 distress messages, the Associated Press reported, including reports of a five-month-old baby trapped in a roof and a woman with six grandchildren who drilled a hole in a roof to escape the floods. At least two designated storm shelters were flooded.
Queen Elizabeth sent a message of support to the country, which gained independence in 1973.
“At this very difficult time, my thoughts and prayers are with those who have seen their homes and properties destroyed, and I also send my gratitude to the emergency services and volunteers who are supporting the rescue and recovery effort,” the message read.
Abaco and Grand Bahama have a combined population of about 70.000 people and peak elevations not exceeding 40 feet above sea level.
The storm also caused flooding on other islands in the Bahamas, including the capital of Nassau. The World Food Program estimated that 47.000 people would need food aid in Grand Bahama and other 14.000 in Abaco, and that emergency medical assistance was also needed.
The US Coast Guard, USAID Relief Agency and UN Relief Agencies have joined efforts led by the Royal Bahamas Defense Force and the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency (Nema).
The US Embassy in Nassau has advised those in need of urgent assistance to call Nema at 322-6731 and send their locations to + 1 (242) 557-5202 via WhatsApp. Authorities have advised people from outside the Bahamas who wish to assist with visiting the International Disaster Information Center.
Speaking on a cell phone video recorded in the center of the disaster, Bahamian MP Iram Lewis sent a request for assistance.
"We'll need a lot, a lot of support after this hurricane is over."