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Lingering Hurricane Dorian complicates rescue efforts in the Bahamas

Hurricane Dorian is the strongest storm on record to hit the Bahamas, and it has lingered for days. Because of the storm’s long duration, many calls for help have as yet gone unanswered, and officials aren’t able to assess the extent of the damage in some areas. But reports say the Freeport airport on Grand Bahama is underwater. Judy Woodruff talks to Danica Coto of the Associated Press.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Back in the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian spent much of this day pummeling Grand Bahama and other islands and is expected hover there into tomorrow. The National Hurricane Center warned this afternoon of ocean storm surges that could be 20 feet higher than normal, while wind gusts were nearly 200 miles an hour at times.

    Phone service has been spotty or disconnected there.

    So we check in this evening with Danica Coto, who covers the Caribbean for the Associated Press. She's been reporting, along with a colleague who's in the Bahamas.

    Danica joins us via Skype from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

    Danica, hello again to us.

    So, what are you hearing about what this hurricane has done to the Bahamas?

  • Danica Coto:

    Well, there's a lot of harrowing calls for help coming out of not only the Abaco Islands, which was hit on Sunday, but as well from Grand Bahama Island, which was affected today, on Monday — all Monday for more than 12 hours.

    It's a pretty significant amount of time for an island that is mostly zero to 15 feet above sea levels, given that the storm surge is expected between 18 to 23 feet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I was seeing in a report you did with your colleague in the Bahamas there were something like over 2,000 distress calls?

  • Danica Coto:

    Correct.

    A lot of people were calling in for friends and relatives, relaying messages to a radio station that was then passing on messages to the Emergency Management Agency.

    These calls ranged from a 5-month-old that was stuck atop a roof, to an elderly woman who had a stroke, to a pregnant woman, to a grandmother with six grandchildren who had to literally cut a hole in the roof. And many of these people were asking for help.

    But rescue crews said that they were unable to go out, given the current weather conditions. So, unfortunately, a lot of people were left waiting for help. And as soon as the weather cleared, officials said they could go out and help. And most of them went out as the eye passed through Grand Bahama.

    So some people were able to be rescued, but many are still waiting for help.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about infrastructure there?

    Danica, you mentioned it's, what — you said zero to 15 feet above sea level. How prepared are they to deal with any storm and in particular a storm like this one that's just sitting there?

  • Danica Coto:

    Well, the Bahamas is pretty used to major storms.

    From 2015 to 2017, they were hit by three Category 4 storms consecutively in those years. The homes are built to withstand 150 mile-per-hour winds. But Dorian was no match. Dorian was carrying 185 mile-per-hour winds, with gusts of up to 220 mile-per-hour winds, when it hit the Abaco Islands on Sunday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But we don't know yet, is what you're saying, the extent of the destruction.

  • Danica Coto:

    Correct.

    Officials say they are still unable to go to the Abaco Islands, which was hit on Sunday. And so the earliest they would be able to go in to help these communities and the nearby keys would be around 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

    But a lot remains unknown, given that the storm has basically parked itself over the Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands for two days.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is it known how many people were able actually to leave the Bahamas? I'm assuming not that many before the storm hit.

  • Danica Coto:

    A lot of people sought shelter, but legislators have said that many remained in the tiny keys around Abaco Island and Grand Bahama.

    And they're talking about creating legislation to be able to enforce mandatory evacuations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But in order to do that, people have to have the — they have to be able to afford to get on a boat or an airplane.

  • Danica Coto:

    Correct.

    They provide the transportation for many of these people. And it was even up to 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, which was the last bus leaving for shelters. And, even then, a couple of shelters in Grand Bahama today were reporting problems with flooding.

    Our local reporters were saying that children were sitting on the laps of adults as floodwaters began to rise in at least two shelters.

    Some people are describing the airport in Freeport, which is in Grand Bahama. They say it looks like an ocean. A lot of areas are completely underwater. People are in the second floors of their homes. Bahama they say it looks like an ocean. A lot of areas are completely underwater.

    People are on the second floors of their homes filming videos with waters rising.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's a terrible situation. And, of course, we're all waiting to see what more is learned.

    Danica Coto with the Associated Press, thank you, Danica.

  • Danica Coto:

    Thank you very much.

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