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Hurricane Dorian leaves ‘apocalyptic’ damage in the Bahamas

The southeastern U.S. shoreline is watching Hurricane Dorian drive north, not far offshore. The storm’s winds have dropped to 105 miles per hour, still plenty powerful but much less severe than those that blasted the northern Bahamas earlier this week. John Yang reports and joins Judy Woodruff from Nassau with an update on a disaster whose scope of destruction is still coming into focus.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The southeastern U.S. shoreline is keeping vigil tonight, watching Hurricane Dorian plow north, not far offshore. The storm is packing winds of 105 miles an hour, down sharply from its force when it blasted the Northern Bahamas.

    John Yang reports now from the capital city, Nassau, on a disaster still coming into focus.

  • John Yang:

    Crushed homes, toppled trees, a yacht ashore, plane parts strewn around what was the Grand Bahama Airport, wreckage in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, scenes that one official called apocalyptic.

    As the storm churns away from the Bahamas, survivors face a humanitarian crisis.

    Marvin Hanlon Dames is the Bahamian national security minister.

  • Marvin Hanlon Dames:

    We are now in that stage where we're beginning now to get on the ground, get our people in the right places, and begin to focus on the needs and the concerns of those persons in distress.

  • John Yang:

    So far, the rescue effort includes more than 600 police and Marines deploying across hard-hit Grand Bahama Island. The U.S. Coast Guard is assisting around the equally devastated Abaco Islands.

    The Red Cross says more than 13,000 homes on the two islands, 45 percent of the total, have been severely damaged or destroyed.

    Sandra Cooke's family was trapped in their home for 17 hours.

  • Sandra Cooke:

    All of my family lives in Marsh Harbour, and everybody lost everything. None of them have a home to live or anything like that. It's terrible.

  • John Yang:

    Meanwhile, Dorian's wind speeds continue to drop as it swirls north off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. It began to lash the Florida coastline today, and is on track to continue past the Carolinas, perhaps making landfall along the North Carolina coast by Friday.

    The storm announced its arrival near Jacksonville, Florida, with whipping winds and crashing waves.

    Mayor Lenny Curry urged people to stay vigilant.

  • Lenny Curry:

    I understand people are tired. We have been watching this storm for almost a week. The models have changed a number of times, but it's now upon us. It's coming this way. So, this is no time to let your guard down and go out and walk around and drive around.

  • John Yang:

    In Charleston, South Carolina, Mayor John Tecklenburg echoed orders to evacuate dangerous areas, and predicted a quadruple threat.

  • John Tecklenburg:

    What's of great concern, as even was mentioned yesterday, is that triple threat of heavy rain, high tides, and storm surge. In addition to the triple threat, now more so, we feel there's a threat of wind, a higher risk of wind threat. So it's really a quadruple threat.

  • John Yang:

    And in North Carolina.

  • Roy Cooper:

    Hurricane Dorian has its sight set on North Carolina.

  • John Yang:

    Governor Roy Cooper today warned of storm surges and inland flooding.

  • Roy Cooper:

    North Carolinians are used to facing storms, but please don't let familiarity get in the way of good judgment. If you're in an area where an evacuation has been ordered, leave now.

  • John Yang:

    In Washington, President Trump said he's keeping an eye on the storm from the White House.

  • President Donald Trump:

    But it's a very erratic, a very slow, very powerful hurricane. It's built up tremendous water and water supply like few have seen.

  • John Yang:

    And Mr. Trump promised the United States will do all it can to help Bahamas' recovery efforts.

    This general aviation terminal at the Nassau Airport has become sort of a hub of that relief effort, but, unfortunately, it's also become something of a dead end. Medical personnel, search-and-rescue teams, relief aid is all gathered here from the United States and other places, but it can't go any further.

    The problem is that they just can't get you all this out. I talked to one local organizer who said he's running out of space to story all the medical supplies that are arriving because they can't get it out.

    Great frustration here that there are so many resources here to help, but they can't get it that final 130 miles or so to where it's needed — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    John, what is keeping them from getting this material to the — these materials to the places where they're needed?

  • John Yang:

    It's conditions.

    I mentioned earlier that the Grand Bahama Airport is underwater. The entire island, 60 percent of the entire island is underwater. The highest point on Grand Bahama is 30 feet above sea level. The storm surge, not counting the waves, 23 feet above sea level.

    There's simply not enough spaces to land helicopters there to get the aid in. Starting tomorrow, some groups like Project HOPE are going to try to reach there by water, by ship, but right now they just can't reach them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So hard to imagine for those of us who have ever been to any of the Bahamas.

    So, John, what else are you hearing about the conditions on these islands that have been most devastated?

  • John Yang:

    Well, you know, the best way to answer that may be to play for you a little conversation I had earlier today with Dave Meldo. He's from Orlando, Florida. He's here trying to coordinate the helicopter efforts to the various islands.

    He grew up on Abaco Island and just yesterday flew over it in a helicopter.

  • Man:

    Just devastation. Completely — it was — I didn't recognize it. I didn't even know the islands I was flying over, and I have been living here and coming here my whole life. They just don't look the same. And it's bad. It looks really bad. We need help.

  • John Yang:

    You know, the total communications system is in ruins, hospitals, public buildings, even the shelters that were set up to protect residents from this storm all underwater.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, John, I can't help but think back to Puerto Rico, how devastated it was by Hurricane Maria a few years ago.

    Do you have the sense that there is enough help there waiting to get to these islands once they are accessible?

  • John Yang:

    You do get that sense. There is a lot of material, personnel.

    You just go inside this terminal, it is wall-to-wall aid workers, medical personnel, nurses, doctors, all just champing at the bit to get out there and help, but they just can't get the approval, or they can't find a way out there by air.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, John, it sounds as if there's going to be an enormous infrastructure rebuilding job that lies ahead for these islands.

  • John Yang:

    Absolutely.

    So much of the public infrastructure, general infrastructure has been devastated and destroyed. The communications systems have got to be rebuilt. Power, hospitals, all have to be rebuilt now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    John Yang, such a terrible story. We're so glad you're there for us, John Yang reporting from Nassau in the Bahamas.

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