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In the Bahamas, how relief groups are tackling ruined infrastructure and lack of power

The grave reality of Hurricane Dorian’s devastation in the Bahamas is becoming more evident each day. Great Abaco Island is virtually uninhabitable, and there’s major destruction near Freeport and its surroundings on Grand Bahama. Government officials say 2,500 people are still unaccounted for. Stephanie Sy, the NewsHour’s new national correspondent, talks to Christy Delafield of Mercy Corps.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now let's get an update on the situation in the Bahamas and the very difficult relief efforts.

    Stephanie Sy is our new national correspondent at the "NewsHour." She will be based in Phoenix.

    But she joins us here at the desk here tonight with the story.

    Welcome, Stephanie. We're so glad to have you.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Thank you so much, Judy. It's great to be part of your team.

    Unfortunately, the scope of Hurricane Dorian's destruction in the Bahamas is still coming into focus. The island of Abaco is virtually uninhabitable. And there's major destruction near Freeport and the surrounding area on Grand Bahama.

    Government officials say 2,500 people are listed as missing. Some of them could be in shelters or still on the islands.

    Earlier this evening, I spoke with Christy Delafield of the relief group Mercy Corps. She joined us via Skype from the eastern part of the Grand Bahama.

    And I began by asking what it looks like there.

  • Christy Delafield:

    The destruction on Abaco really was complete. The homes were flattened.

    It's not quite like that here in Freeport. The buildings were built a little bit better. They fared a little bit better. But people still don't have running water. A lot of windows are blown out. The wind did a tremendous amount of damage on roofs. And the floodwaters were devastating.

    Floodwaters of up to maybe eight feet just destroyed people's homes and people's vehicles with salty, contaminated water.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    We know that those floodwaters were dangerous as well. And the government is now saying that there are 2,500 people that are still unaccounted for.

    Is that surprising to you to hear that number?

  • Christy Delafield:

    Sadly, no.

    This is something that we were hearing from people all along in the past week, people saying that they had loved ones that they hadn't heard from or that they didn't really know where — where people had fled to or how they had fared.

    So this is — this is devastating. And we need to learn more information, and the search-and-rescue needs to continue.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And that doesn't necessarily mean the death toll will go that high.

  • Christy Delafield:

    No, it's a thing that just we need to get through the confirmation process.

    And that's, you know, managed through the government, and they are going to work to understand the full picture. And it just takes time.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Let's talk about the response for groups like Mercy Corps in week two vs. how you responded in the days right after the hurricane. What are you focused on now?

  • Christy Delafield:

    Today, the focus is really on connecting with those organizations locally that understand whose needs haven't been met.

    We're still really trying to bring in urgently needed supplies, clean water, food, tarps, rope, all those things that needs to be brought in, in great volume.

    But, at the same time, we understand that there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. Different people lost different things and need different things. And this is a part of a response where you start to see maybe pockets of people that are more difficult to get to that aren't getting help that they need.

    I think that one of the other things that you might not expect that's really been useful in this situation is, Mercy Corps is bringing in solar lanterns, so people have a little bit more light, the electricity grid being knocked out.

    But they also have a little USB charger, so people can charge their phones. As the cellular service is coming back, that's a really important way to communicate out with different communities, help people reach their loved ones and access emergency services.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    It's September, and school should be starting for kids there this month.

    Will they be able to go to school anytime soon?

  • Christy Delafield:

    School was supposed to start on Monday.

    We're seeing a lot of people, a lot of kids who just before the storm were buying school uniforms, were buying new clothes. They had paid school fees, which is how that operate here in the Bahamas. And it's a real disappointment for a lot of families who aren't going to be able to send their kids back to school.

    We're also hearing that it might be as much as two months before the electricity gets back up and running. Of course, local officials are working really quickly and as fast as they can to get that to happen for schools and other really essential resources. But it may be some time.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    When it comes to the Bahamian economy, what are the longer-term ramifications that are becoming evident now?

  • Christy Delafield:

    So, this is an economy that is really driven by tourism. As a lot of people who have visited the Bahamas know, it's a beautiful destination.

    It's an archipelago made up of hundreds of islands. These two islands being devastated aren't in a position to welcome tourists, but the Bahamian government is really concerned that they're seeing fewer visitors and just depression over all of the tourist economy, which could have broader ramifications moving forward.

    And there are a lot of people that are wondering if they're going to have jobs in the next year or two years.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    A tough road ahead, for sure.

    Christy Delafield of Mercy Corps, thank you so much for your insights there in Grand Bahama.

  • Christy Delafield:

    Thank you for having me.

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