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On Abaco and Grand Bahama, the best option for many residents is to leave

It’s been a week since Hurricane Dorian devastated the Abaco Islands and part of Grand Bahama. Many residents of the stricken areas have left their ruined homes or are waiting in lines for transportation out, because leaving is their best option. Meanwhile, rescue workers continue to recover bodies, but the death toll is still unknown. Amna Nawaz reports and talks to UNICEF’s Naqib Safi.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Rescue workers searched for bodies in the Bahamas today, and thousands of residents evacuated to shelters.

    The Abaco Islands were devastated by Hurricane Dorian. Relief operations are under way, but it has been a slow and difficult process.

    Amna Nawaz gets a report from the islands.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, it's been a week since Dorian struck the Abaco Islands and part of the Grand Bahama. It's been slow going to get enough food, water and supplies to these places.

    As much as 90 percent of all the buildings and structures on the Abaco Islands appear to have been destroyed. Areas like Marsh Harbour, where there were many Haitian immigrants, may not be habitable for any real length of time.

    There's also been difficulties in getting supplies to people in need, and there's been talk of possible strains between the local government and some relief groups.

    Today, government officials were asked about why some flights aren't getting to the hard-hit islands.

  • Man:

    The priority is given to those entities that made contact with NEMA. That is one of the functions of NEMA. It is to coordinate. And so we are not preventing persons from getting in, but it has to be done in an orderly fashion.

    We don't want a disaster upon a disaster.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    UNICEF began delivering water supplies this weekend, after a plane landed with 1.5 tons of supplies.

    Naqib Safi is an emergency specialist for UNICEF. He was in Marsh Harbour yesterday. And he joins me from Nassau by Skype.

    Naqib Safi, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    You were just in Marsh Harbour. Some of the hardest-hit areas are there. Tell me what it was that you saw and heard on the ground.

  • Naqib Safi:

    Devastation. Almost all infrastructure, houses were affected.

    At the airport, when we arrived, we saw a long queue of children, women and of rest of the families who were evacuating in a flight towards Nassau.

    We drove almost for five to seven hours in different locations. We talked to people. We saw destruction, we saw desperation. And when we talked to individuals and different groups who were taking shelter in churches, school and, in one case, within a government complex, they were all stressed and they were desperate for help.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Naqib, I have to ask.

    There have been dozens of accounts of people fleeing, people evacuating, people leaving. When it comes to basic needs, water and food, on the most basic level, are those getting through to the people who need them? And if they aren't, why not?

  • Naqib Safi:

    What we have observed in all these areas, at least in nine specific centers that I can refer to, food and water was provided through either private donation, government, and whoever was working and providing assistance.

    What I have seen, there were food available. Of course, it's the matter for how long, but, at the moment, it's not been an issue of serious concern in a given moment.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, we heard earlier from one of the Bahamian emergency management officials.

    And this has been a criticism we have heard again and again now, that there have been difficulties with some relief organizations working with the Bahamian authorities on the ground.

    Can you tell me a little bit? Have you seen those kinds of tensions? Is it any more difficult to work with this — with this government than others?

  • Naqib Safi:

    There are realistic challenges on the ground, especially in a crisis of this scale and magnitude, which was unexpected and it was much more bigger than initially thought.

    The stress — those who are dealing with it, they are part of the affected population, so, if there are occasion that we see some level of destruction, that's actually a normal nature of this crisis.

    I have been to many crises around the world, and I don't see anything different. In addition, actually, here, the government is allocating resources. And they are showing quite extensive level of commitment and determination to provide support and facilitate other partners' access to the people in need.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Naqib, very briefly, it's been one week since the hurricane struck.

    Do you see that the people on the islands, the people of the Bahamas, will get the aid that they need, or will leaving be the best option for many of them right now?

  • Naqib Safi:

    In Abaco, which mostly has been affected, I think 90, 95 percent of the population has already left.

    Remember, this percentage should be taken into the context, because we are still figuring out — and when I say we, the government and the partners — to see, what are the exact number of people staying?

    The return of these people will need significant level of investment, of rehabilitation of water system, power supplies, infrastructure, et cetera, and, most importantly from our perspective, a sense of normal and education for children, so — which I don't think it will happen, at least in the very near future, because it will require quite significant level of investment and reconstruction effort.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Naqib Safi of UNICEF joining us tonight from Nassau.

    Thank you very much for your time.

  • Naqib Safi:

    You're welcome.

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