About 2.500 people are still missing in the Bahamas more than a week after Hurricane Dorian hit the Caribbean island chain, although that number could include evacuees who fled to shelters, officials said on Wednesday.
Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told the nation in a televised speech that Dorian's death toll remained at 50, but admitted that the large number of missing persons meant that the death toll would increase.
"The death toll is expected to increase significantly," said Minnis, adding that the government was being transparent and would provide "timely information on loss of life as available."
Emergency management officials told a separate news conference that the missing list had not yet been checked with evacuated records or the thousands of people in shelters.
"My friends are missing, some of my cousins are missing there, five in all, they lived in Marsh Harbor," said Clara Bain, an 38-year-old guide, referring to the town of Abaco, where authorities estimate that 90 % of houses and buildings were damaged or destroyed.
“Everyone on the islands is missing someone, it's really devastating,” she said.
Dorian hit the Bahamas on 1 September 9th as a five-step Saffir-Simpson Intensity Scale 5 category storm, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded, to hit land directly and contain the sustainable winds of 185 miles per hour (298 km / h).
"Our sympathies go to the families of every person who died," said Minnis. “We will pray for them during this period of mourning. We offer our shoulders to cry. You will never be forgotten. ”
More than 5.000 people were evacuated to New Providence, the island where the capital, Nassau, is located in the face of the worst hurricane in the country's history. But since then, there has been a significant reduction in the number of people who now need to be relocated, according to emergency management authorities.
About 15.000 people still need shelter or food, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.
Authorities have already set up large tents in Nassau to house the homeless by the storm and plan to build tent cities in Abaco that can house up to 4.000 people.
Minnis thanked US President Donald Trump and the American people for mobilizing support and urged Bahamians to collaborate with relief efforts voluntarily or by donating money to legitimate charities.
The White House said on Wednesday that the United States would not grant temporary protected immigration status to people fleeing the Bahamas after the hurricane.
The status would have allowed Bahamians to live and work in the United States while their country recovered.
Private analysts estimate that Dorian destroyed or damaged about $ 3 billion in insured property in the Bahamas or other parts of the Caribbean.
Commercial flights to Abaco, one of the hardest hit areas, were resumed to a limited extent on Wednesday.