Published:  02:37 PM, 09 September 2019

Bahamas defends hurricane response amid criticism

Bahamas defends hurricane response amid criticism

Bahamian officials have defended their response to Hurricane Dorian after it devastated parts of the island chain last week, killing at least 43 people.

Residents on the Abaco Islands have accused the government of failing to provide assistance and prevent looting.

Officials denied there had been any cover up of number of deaths. The toll is likely to rise as hundreds, possibly thousands, of people are still missing.

Some 70,000 people were in need of food and shelter, the United Nations said.

Dorian ripped through the northern Bahamas as a category five hurricane with winds gusts of 300km/h (200mph) and huge storm surges.

Thousands of residents from the hardest-hit areas in the Abacos have been sent to the capital, Nassau, where officials say they may have to use tents or containers to house the victims.

Health Minister Duane Sands dismissed allegations that the authorities were covering up the number of victims, saying the body count was "not the priority".

"The priority is find those people for their loved ones who are missing them; to take care, provide comfort to those people who are hurt, who are suffering," he told the Miami Herald newspaper.

'No food, no medicine, no water'
In Marsh Harbour on the Abacos, where 90% of infrastructure is damaged or destroyed, search-and-rescue teams were working through the rubble while residents complained that aid had been too slow in arriving.

"We've had to funnel gasoline out of destroyed cars to get injured people back and forth. There's no food, no medicine and no water," said 37-year-old Tepeto Davis. "We're suffering out here and no-one cares about us."

Some of the most affected areas were shanty towns, many of them populated by Haitian workers. One of them, known as the Mudd, was almost totally wiped out by the hurricane, and bodies were still waiting to be collected.

There were also fears that diarrhoea and waterborne diseases could spread as drinking water might be contaminated, the Pan American Health Organization said.

Carl Smith, spokesperson for the Bahamas' National Emergency Management Agency (Nema), said the authorities were doing "everything [they] can to move as effectively and as efficiently as it can, given the circumstances".

"We're dealing with a disaster," he said, adding that more experts were being deployed.

About 3,500 people have been evacuated to Nassau by passenger planes, cruise liners and government boats and ships. On Saturday, a cruise liner carrying 1,400 people docked in Riviera Beach, Florida.

Mark Green, head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) said he had taken a flight to observe the damage caused by the storm on Grand Bahama and the Abacos islands.

"I was struck by the focused nature of the devastation," he told Reuters news agency. "There are clusters and communities that were devastated, almost as though nuclear bombs were dropped on them."

USAID says it was working with the government of the Bahamas to provide emergency shelter, medical care, food and water. The US Coast Guard and Navy are shipping in relief supplies.

Hurricane Dorian has diminished into a post-tropical cyclone. On Saturday, it smashed into the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, toppling trees and cutting power to more than 450,000 people.

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