Updated: Hurricane Relief Efforts Accelerate in the Bahamas

Crewmembers of the USCG cutter Raymond Evans offload supplies in Nassau, Sept. 6 (USCG)

Published Sep 6, 2019 11:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

Hurricane Dorian devastated parts of the northern Bahamas, and relief efforts are beginning to accelerate - none too soon, officials say, because supplies are running low in some of the hardest-hit areas. An early estimate from the World Food Programme warns that there could be as many as 60,000 people in need of food aid in the near term. On Great Abaco, widespread looting has been reported.

The U.S. Coast Guard was among the first response agencies on scene, and as of Friday, it has deployed 14 helicopters, 10 airplanes and three cutters to the Bahamas. To date it has provided rescues, medevacs or evacuations for more than 290 people. In addition, the U.S. Air Force is dispatching three C-130J cargo aircraft from the Rhode Island Air National Guard to provide transportation, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been providing helicopter flight services for aid delivery and medical evacuations. The Royal Navy also has a presence: the amphib RFA Mounts Bay is operating in the Abaco Islands and has disembarked heavy equipment in Marsh Harbour for clearing roads and restoring access.

Private aid efforts are also in full swing, including aid from the maritime community. All of the major American cruise lines have pledged financial assistance for the relief effort. In addition, SEACOR Island Lines said Friday that it is using its operations and assets - notably its landing craft - to contribute to the relief effort, along with $250,000 in financial aid and direct funding for food and staples, construction materials and portable generators.

On Saturday morning, a flotilla of about 20 private fishing vessels and pleasure boats was preparing to get under way from Pompano Beach with relief supplies for Grand Bahama Island, about 90 miles away to the east. The effort was organized by Offshore Anglers of Pompano Beach, with support from a wide array of South Florida businesses and individuals.

Florida-based marine salvage company Resolve Marine told media on Friday that it would be donating the services of one of its barges to deliver reverse-osmosis water purification plants to the Bahamas, along with one million gallons of potable water. In a social media post, the firm said that it has also been involved in the effort to clear Freeport Harbor and restore its piers to service for crucial shipments of aid. 

Though it has unparalleled expeditionary capabilities, the U.S. Navy has not yet been tasked with providing assistance, Navy officials told USNI on Friday. The amphib USS Bataan - with a full complement of landing craft, helicopters, tilt-rotor Ospreys and 600 hospital beds - is in the vicinity, but as of Friday it was still sitting out the aid effort

Evacuations under way

70,000 residents of the northern Bahamas have been left homeless due to storm damage, and given the conditions in the area, many residents are choosing to evacuate. Hundreds have gathered at Marsh Harbour to travel by ferry to the island of North Eleuthera, which was much less affected by the storm. Privately-operated boats are also assisting in the evacuation effort. In addition, charter flight operators are carrying people from Great Abaco to Nassau, but "chaotic" air traffic conditions are posing a challenge, some pilots told the Miami Herald. 

In Freeport, Grand Bahama, those with permission to travel to the United States may be able to board the cruise ship Grand Celebration for a free passage to Florida. Her operator, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, is offering free transit for Bahamian residents with proper documentation.

As of Saturday, the official death toll from the storm stands at 43, but it is expected to rise dramatically in the near term. Multiple eyewitnesses on Great Abaco have told media of encountering bodies in the wreckage in Marsh Harbour. Bahamas tourism ministry head Joy Jibrilu told CNN Friday that there are "hundreds, up to thousands" of people missing, and the Bahamas' health ministry is gearing up to handle large numbers of bodies if required. "The public needs to prepare for unimaginable information about the death toll and the human suffering," health minister Dr. Duane Sands said in an interview with local radio. "It's going to be huge."

Hurricane Dorian grazes Mid-Atlantic region

After striking the Bahamas with 185-mph winds and paralleling the coast of the southeastern United States, Hurricane Dorian made landfall on North Carolina's Outer Banks as a Category 1 storm on Friday morning. It has since moved out to sea, leaving the Eastern seaboard rapidly behind as it churns towards Nova Scotia

Hundreds of residents on Okracoke and Hatteras Islands were left stranded by the storm, and the North Carolina National Guard was called in to provide helicopter evacuations and deliver supplies. An estimated 800 people are on Okracoke and in need of assistance, according to state officials. 

Areas of the South and North Carolina shore received in excess of six inches of rain, according to data provided by NASA, leading to localized flooding. At least four deaths in the U.S. have been reported in connection with the storm. 

As Dorian continues to move northeast, a hurricane warning is in effect for eastern Nova Scotia, and the storm is expected to bring 85 knot winds to the region as early as Saturday night. It is expected to weaken and dissipate by Tuesday.