Polar vortex, Midwest floods, California fires: The U.S.’s wild 2019 weather

By Brendan O’Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) – From a brutal polar vortex that froze much of the Midwest and East Coast in January to Hurricane Dorian that killed dozens in the Bahamas in September, Mother Nature dealt Americans a wild and deadly weather year in 2019.

Weather events that made headlines this year included:

POLAR VORTEX BLAMED FOR 21 DEATHS

The year got off to a roaring start with a polar vortex that paralyzed the U.S. Midwest and the East Coast for several days at the end of January, putting tens of millions of Americans in a deep freeze. Arctic-like temperatures as low as minus 56 degrees F (-49 C) were blamed for at least 21 cold-related deaths, including nine in Chicago. The record-breaking cold snap shut schools and businesses, grounded hundreds of flights and filled emergency rooms with frostbite victims.

HISTORIC FLOODING SWAMPS U.S. PLAINS, MIDWEST

A quick-melting snow from a March “bomb cyclone” storm left wide swaths of nine states flooded in the U.S. Plains and Midwest. At least four deaths and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses were blamed on the historic flooding. Some of the region’s larger rivers filled to record high levels, causing levees to break. Several small towns and communities were cut off by the high waters while others were short of fresh drinking water. The flooding also destroyed billions of dollars of crops that were in storage and damaged roads and railways.

22 DEAD IN JULY HEAT WAVEAt least 22 people died during a massive heat wave that baked the U.S. Midwest, South and East Coast during the third week of July. Millions of residents in major U.S. cities including Chicago and New York were urged to stay indoors as temperatures reached over 100 degrees F (37.8 C). To make matters worse, parts of Manhattan lost power, darkening Broadway theaters, halting subways and closing restaurants and shops in a blackout blamed on a faulty piece of equipment. In downtown Madison, Wisconsin, thousands of homes and businesses lost power after fires erupted at two substations near the state capitol during the hot weather.

 

FILE PHOTO: A man walks among debris at the Mudd neighborhood, devastated after Hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo

HURRICANE DORIAN SLAMS BAHAMAS, KILLING SCORES

At least 70 people lost their lives, with more than 250 still missing, when Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm, slammed the Bahamas with 200-mile-per-hour (320-kph) winds during the first week of September. It was one of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes on record and stands as the worst disaster in the history of the archipelago nation of 400,000 people. The storm reduced thousands of homes and businesses to rubble and displaced tens of thousands of Bahamians before heading north and making landfall in the Carolinas as a Category 1 hurricane. Once in the United States, Dorian flooded coastal towns, whipped up tornadoes and cut power to hundreds of thousands of people.

THREE DEAD IN CALIFORNIA WILDFIRE SEASON

This year’s wildfire season in California was relatively tame compared to the epic spate of conflagrations in 2017 and 2018 that ranks as the deadliest and most destructive in state history. California, however, was not completely spared. The state’s biggest fire in 2019 was the Kincade fire, a wind-driven blaze that scorched 120 square miles (310 sq km) of Sonoma County wine country, where it damaged or destroyed hundreds of structures and forced thousands to evacuate. In all, just three fatalities were recorded in 2019, compared to nearly 150 lives lost during the previous two years.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Scott Malone and Sandra Maler)

Tropical storm nears northern Bahamas, complicating Dorian relief

By Zach Fagenson

NASSAU (Reuters) – The leading edge of a potential tropical storm brought rain and wind to the Bahamas early Friday, complicating the search for 1,300 people missing in the wake of the worst hurricane to ever hit the island nation and efforts to bring relief to survivors.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for most of the Northwestern Bahamas, including Great Abaco Island and Grand Bahama Island, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Those islands were ravaged when Hurricane Dorian ripped through the archipelago as a Category 5 storm two weeks ago.

Early Friday, the tropical disturbance was 235 miles (375 km) east-southeast of Freeport on Grand Bahama Island as it traveled northwest with winds of 30 mph.

The storm was expected to dump two to four inches of rain on the islands, where the powerful and slow-moving Dorian had ripped roofs off thousands of dwellings and dumped up to two feet of rain. In some areas, the new storm could drop up to 6 inches of rain through Sunday, the NHC said, but no storm surge was expected.

“Tropical storm force winds, heavy rain and high surf are expected” in the Bahamas, said Dennis Feltgen, the center’s spokesman. “Wet and windy, which is going to make the recovery over the northwest Bahamas that much more difficult.”

The storm is expected to pick up speed as it moves northwest on Friday and could hit Florida on Saturday, it said.

In Florida, a tropical storm watch was in effect for portions of the east-central coast early Friday. South Florida could see tropical storm-force winds as early as Friday evening, the NHC said.

The tropical cyclone was not expected to bring anywhere near the devastation of Dorian, which slammed into the Bahamas on Sept. 1 as a Category 5 storm. It was one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record to hit land, packing top sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (298 kph).

With 1,300 people still missing, according to the Bahamian government, relief services are focused on search and rescue as well as providing food, water and shelter.

Aid groups rushed shelter material to residents living in the shells of former homes.

“We’re seeing plastic tarps go out all over the islands, and that’s extremely important because now you’ve got another tropical storm coming,” said Ken Isaacs, vice president of programs for U.S. relief organization Samaritan’s Purse.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will visit the Bahamas on Friday and Saturday to speak with people affected by the hurricane and the humanitarian teams assisting them. He planned to meet with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis in Nassau.

Minnis on Wednesday said the official death toll stood at 50 but was expected to rise. He said he was trying to remove “bureaucratic roadblocks” to bringing aid to areas where the devastation made it hard for relief teams to reach.

Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said he believed “hundreds” were dead on Abaco “and significant numbers on Grand Bahama,” the Nassau Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday.

Officials have erected large tents in Nassau to house those made homeless by Dorian. They plan to erect tent cities on Abaco to shelter up to 4,000 people.

(Reporting by Zach Fagenson in Nassau; additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Jason Neely and David Gregorio)

Bahamas’ count of missing people post-Dorian drops to 1,300 – official

NASSAU (Reuters) – The Bahamian government now believes there are 1,300 people missing after Hurricane Dorian plowed into the islands, a sharp decline from the 2,500 listed on the missing registry a day earlier, a government spokesman said on Thursday.

The Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday had warned the larger figure could include people staying at shelters.

“The number of people registered missing with the Bahamas government is going down daily,” NEMA spokesman Carl Smith told a news conference.

The official death count currently stands at 50 but Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis on Wednesday warned he expects that to significantly increase.

(Reporting by Zach Fagenson, additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Scott Malone; Editing by Chris Reese)

Bahamas says 2,500 missing after Dorian; prime minister warns death toll to rise ‘significantly’

By Zachary Fagenson

NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) – Some 2,500 people are still listed as missing in the Bahamas more than a week after Hurricane Dorian pummeled the Caribbean island chain, although that number may include evacuees who fled to shelters, authorities said on Wednesday.

Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told the nation in a televised address that the death toll from Dorian remained at 50, but conceded that the large number of people missing meant that number would rise.

“The number of deaths is expected to significantly increase,” Minnis said, adding the government was being transparent and would provide “timely information on the loss of life as it is available.”

Emergency management officials told a separate news conference that the list of missing had not yet been checked against records of evacuees or the thousands of people staying in shelters.

“My friends are missing, a few of my cousins are missing over there, five in total, they lived in Marsh Harbour,” said Clara Bain, a 38-year-old tour guide, referring to the Abaco town where officials estimate that 90% of homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed.

“Everyone on the islands are missing someone, it’s really devastating,” she said.

Dorian slammed into the Bahamas on Sept. 1 as a Category 5 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record to make a direct hit on land and packing top sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (298 kph).

“Our sympathies go out to the families of each person who died,” Minnis said. “Let us pray for them during this time of grief. We offer you our shoulders to cry on. You will never be forgotten.”

More than 5,000 people evacuated to New Providence, the island where the capital, Nassau, is located, in the face of the worst hurricane in the country’s history. But there has since been a significant reduction in the number now asking to be relocated, according to emergency management officials.

Some 15,000 people are still in need of shelter or food, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

Officials have already put up large tents in Nassau to house those made homeless by the storm and plan to erect tent cities on Abaco capable of sheltering up to 4,000 people.

Minnis thanked U.S. President Donald Trump and the American people for mobilizing support and urged Bahamians to pitch in with relief efforts by volunteering or donating money to legitimate charities.

The White House said on Wednesday the United States would not give temporary protected immigration status to people fleeing the Bahamas after the hurricane.

The status would have allowed Bahamians to live and work in the United States while their country recovers.

Private forecasters estimated that Dorian destroyed or damaged some $3 billion in insured property in the Bahamas or elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Commercial flights to Abaco, one of the hardest-hit areas, resumed on a limited basis on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Zach Fagenson in Nassau, Maria Caspani in New York, Scott Malone in Boston and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angele; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)

Bahamian officials say 2,500 people registered as missing in Dorian’s wake

By Zachary Fagenson

NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) – Bahamian officials said on Wednesday that 2,500 people have been registered as missing in the wake of the devastating Hurricane Dorian, a count they said may include people who have fled to shelters around the islands.

“This list has not yet been checked against government records of who are staying in shelters or who have been evacuated,” National Emergency Management Agency spokesman Carl Smith told a news conference. “The database processing is underway.”

Thousands of people are in shelters on the islands. Officials have confirmed 50 deaths caused by the Sept. 1 storm but have warned that toll is likely to rise substantially.

Dorian slammed into the Bahamas over a week ago as one of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes on record, packing top sustained winds of 185 miles (298 km) per hour.

Smith said more than 5,000 people had evacuated to New Providence, but that they had seen a “significant reduction” in the number of people asking to be evacuated.

Commercial flights to Abaco, one of the hardest-hit areas, will be resuming on Wednesday on a limited basis, officials said.

(Reporting by Zach Fagenson in Nassau and Maria Caspani in New York, writing by Scott Malone, editing by Chris Reese and Steve Orlofsky)

Dorian’s death toll in Bahamas rises to 50 – official

NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) – Hurricane Dorian’s rampage through the Bahamas last week killed at least 50 people, largely on the hard-hit Great Abaco Island, an official said on Tuesday.

That is up from the last-reported figure of 45, Carl Smith, a spokesman for the islands’ National Emergency Management Agency, told reporters. Evacuees, rescue workers and officials widely expect the number to climb higher as more bodies are pulled from the rubble of a demolished neighborhood in Marsh Harbour in Abaco.

Dorian pummeled the Bahamas with 200-mile-per-hour (320-km-per-hour) winds. It was one of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes on record and stands as the worst disaster in Bahamian history.

As relief efforts got underway slowly, stirring frustration among locals, several Bahamians said they might attempt to emigrate to the United States rather than face an uncertain rebuilding at home.

It is not clear whether U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, which has sought to severely curtail legal and illegal immigration, will smooth their path.

But a growing chorus of Congress members, including Florida Republicans Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, have called for a suspension of visa requirements to help reunite stranded Bahamians with U.S. relatives.

Some 70,000 people were in need of food and shelter, the World Food Programme estimated. Private forecasters estimated that some $3 billion in insured property was destroyed or damaged in the Caribbean.

(Reporting by Zachary Fageson, writing by Maria Caspani; editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

‘You can’t break down’: Bahamas keeps up search of Dorian-devastated island

By Zachary Fagenson

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas (Reuters) – Rescue workers wearing white hazard suits carried out a grim search for bodies and survivors in the hurricane-ravaged Bahamas on Monday, as relief agencies worked to deliver food and supplies over flooded roads and piles of debris.

The Royal Bahamas Police Force said at least 45 people died after Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas on Sept. 1, tossing cars and planes around like toys. The death toll is likely to climb.

Dorian was one of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record, a Category 5 hurricane with winds of 200 miles per hour (320 kph). It rampaged over the Bahamas for nearly two days, becoming the worst disaster in the nation’s history.

Large swaths of Greater Abaco Island were destroyed. Reuters journalists saw search crews using geotagging technology to mark the locations of bodies in the hard-hit Mudd section of Marsh Harbour on that island.

One Bahamian rescue worker said it is becoming hard to keep composed when surrounded by death.

“If you’re not in touch with yourself then you lose it. You have to be mentally stable because when you’re seeing these things, and when people who lost loved ones are crying on your shoulder you can’t break down on them,” said one hazmat-suited Bahamian police officer who could not give his name. “These families need this, they need someone to talk to.”

Bahamian officials said 4,800 people had been evacuated from the archipelago’s several islands, most from Abaco. Free flights will continue to evacuate people who choose to leave the Bahamas, but there are no mandatory evacuations, officials said.

“The plan is not to move everyone out,” said Carl Smith, a spokesman National Emergency Management Agency, during a news conference on Monday.

Thousands of people poured into the capital, Nassau, where a week after the storm shelters were straining to house evacuees from worse-hit areas. Hundreds more have fled to the United States in search of safety and resources.

Shelters are housing about 1,100 people, the agency said; more are staying with friends and relatives. The agency was asking residents whose homes were intact to open them up to people displaced by the storm.

Some 90% of the homes, buildings and infrastructure in Marsh Harbour were damaged, the World Food Programme said. Thousands of people were living in a government building, a medical center and an Anglican church that survived the storms, it said, but had little or no access to water, power and sanitary facilities.

Some 70,000 people were in need of food and shelter, the WFP estimated. Private forecasters estimated that some $3 billion in insured property was destroyed or damaged in the Caribbean.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet opened a Human Rights Council session in Geneva on Monday with a minute of silence for hurricane victims.

“Small island nations are among those suffering the most catastrophic effects of climate change, although they contribute very little to fuelling the problem,” Bachelet said. “Just this past week, yet another devastating hurricane hit the Bahamas, taking a terrible toll in human life and destroying precious development gains.”

(Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

Alive but lost: In Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian survivors wonder what next

Abaco residents are evacuated from the island at the airport in the wake of Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco, Bahamas, September 8, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

y Zachary Fagenson and Nick Brown

MARSH HARBOUR/NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) – Days after fleeing their crumbling home and breaking into a vacant apartment to take shelter while Hurricane Dorian rampaged over the Bahamas’ Great Abaco Island, Samuel Cornish and his family caught a rescue flight to Nassau.

Asked what waited for him there, Cornish, a pastor’s son, was blunt: “Nothing,” he said. “Just a new life.”

A man searches for belongings amongst debris in a destroyed neighborhood in the wake of Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco, Bahamas, September 8, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

A man searches for belongings amongst debris in a destroyed neighborhood in the wake of Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco, Bahamas, September 8, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

By Sunday, a week after one of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes on record plowed into the archipelago nation of 400,000 people, the capital city faced a wave of thousands of evacuees fleeing hard-hit areas including Marsh Harbour in the Abacos, where some 90% of the infrastructure was damaged or destroyed.

Great Abaco was littered with mounds of unused construction materials, waterlogged notebooks and Bibles, stained piles of tattered clothes, single shoes, overturned bathtubs and rotting mattresses. Dead cats and dogs were strewn throughout the wreckage while some stray animals were digging through the garbage for food and had taken up residence on the porches of destroyed homes. At least one wild pig weathered the storm, celebrating its survival by charging at two Reuters journalists.

“What I was struck by was the focused nature of the devastation,” Mark Green, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told reporters in Nassau on Sunday, adding that some areas in Abaco looked “almost as though a nuclear bomb was dropped.”

Bahamian officials were still pulling bodies from the wreckage across the island and acknowledged that the official death toll of 43 was likely to rise markedly.

Abaco resident Bernard Forbes is evacuated from the island by Global Support and Development personnel at the airport in the wake of Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco, Bahamas, September 8, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Abaco resident Bernard Forbes is evacuated from the island by Global Support and Development personnel at the airport in the wake of Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco, Bahamas, September 8, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Some 70,000 people need food and shelter, according to the United Nations’ World Food Programme’s estimate. Interviews with evacuees this week shone light on the extent of Dorian’s destruction. Survivors avoided death, but lost homes, jobs and hospitals.

“Home is more than four walls and a roof — it’s the neighborhood where people live, their friends and neighbors, their livelihoods, comfort, and security for the future,” said Jenelle Eli, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross, which is helping with the relief. “People are concerned about their next step, but also how they’ll earn an income and what their lives will look like in the future.”

Bahamian officials acknowledged on Saturday that Nassau would strain to house all the people who needed shelter.

Some institutions that had opened their doors as a place for people to ride out the storm were trying to clear out people who had lost homes, Leonardo Cargill, of the island’s Department of Social Services, told a news conference.

“They now understand that the people coming in, it will be long-term sheltering, and many of them are church facilities and they cannot allow that to go on,” Cargill said.

TENT CITIES POSSIBLE

That has Nassau officials considering other options.

“We can look at the tent city concept and the container city concept, these are all support mechanisms to help us,” Captain Stephen Russell, who heads the National Emergency Management Agency, told the news conference. “Jobs may be a challenge at this time but long term we can house them.”

International aid was also pouring into the island nation.

The U.S. Agency for International Development said it was allocating $2.8 million and had moved enough emergency supplies for 44,000 people to the islands.

The American Red Cross said it had committed an initial $2 million to help the Bahamas recover from the hurricane, with food, water and shelter and other necessities.

Norwegian energy company Equinor said on Sunday it will clean up an onshore oil spill discovered this week at its Bahamas storage terminal in the storm’s aftermath.

The storm had made its way to Canada by Sunday, where the U.S. National Hurricane Center said it was a still-powerful post-tropical cyclone with 75 mile-per-hour (120 km-per-hour) winds over the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Many in hard-hit Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco complained that aid had been too slow in arriving.

“They haven’t done a thing to help us down here,” shouted Tepeto Davis, a 37-year-old tile contractor who slammed on the brakes of his pickup truck and backed up to talk to reporters. “We are suffering out here and no one cares about us. We’ve had to funnel gasoline out of destroyed cars to get injured people back and forth. There’s no gas, there’s no food, no medicine, and no water.”

Those receiving aid in Nassau worried that they were still a long way from being able to rebuild their lives.

“The government says everyone’s being fed, and that’s good,” said Anthony Morley, 61, who fled Marsh Harbour and was staying at Breezes, a Nassau resort where local volunteers have subsidized rooms for survivors. “But for food I can fish. What I need is a house. I don’t have a bed, a refrigerator. I don’t even have a Bible.”

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Marsh Harbour and Nick Brown in Nassau; Additional reporting by Victoria Klesty is Oslo; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Howard Goller)

Search for bodies continues in hurricane-ravaged Bahamas

Members of the Bahamian Defense Force remove bodies from the destroyed Abaco shantytown called Pigeon Peas, after Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas September 8, 2019. REUTERS/Zach Fagenson

By Zachary Fagenson

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas (Reuters) – Rescue workers wearing white hazard suits continued their grim search for bodies and survivors in the hurricane-ravaged Bahamas on Monday, as relief agencies worked to deliver food and supplies over flooded roads and piles of debris.

At least 43 people died when Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas on Sept. 1, flattening homes and tossing cars and planes around like toys.

Dorian was one of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record, a Category 5 hurricane with winds of 200 miles per hour (320 kph). It rampaged over the Bahamas for nearly two days, becoming the worst disaster in the nation’s history.

Large swaths of Greater Abaco Island were destroyed. Reuters journalists saw search crews using geotagging technology to mark the locations of bodies in the hard-hit Mudd section of Marsh Harbor on that island.

Thousands of people poured into the capital, Nassau, where a week after the storm shelters were straining to house evacuees from worse-hit areas. Hundreds more have fled to the United States in search of safety and resources.

The National Emergency Management Agency said late Sunday that 2,500 people had been evacuated from the archipelago’s several islands, most of them from Abaco.

Shelters are housing about 1,100 people, the agency said; more are staying with friends and relatives. The agency late Sunday was asking residents whose homes were intact to open them up to people displaced by the storm.

Some 90% of the homes, buildings and infrastructure in Marsh Harbor were damaged, the World Food Programme said. Thousands of people were living in a government building, a medical center and an Anglican church that survived the storms, it said, but had little or no access to water, power and sanitary facilities.

Some 70,000 people were in need of food and shelter, the WFP estimated. Private forecasters estimated that some $3 billion in insured property was destroyed or damaged in the Caribbean.

The risk of outbreaks of diarrhea and waterborne diseases was high as drinking water may be tainted with sewage, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Scott Malone, editing by Larry King)

‘What death smells like’: Dorian’s toll expected to soar in Bahamas

A truck sits on its side following landfall by Hurricane Dorian at an undisclosed location in the Bahamas in this International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies photo released on September 6, 2019. Courtesy International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies/Handout via REUTERS

By Nick Brown

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas (Reuters) – The smell of death hangs over parts of Great Abaco Island in the northern Bahamas, where relief workers on Friday sifted through the debris of shattered homes and buildings in a search expected to dramatically drive up the death toll from Hurricane Dorian.

Dorian, the most powerful hurricane to ever hit the Bahamas, swept through the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island earlier this week, leveling entire neighborhoods and knocking out key infrastructure, including airport landing strips and a hospital.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people are still missing, and officials say the death toll, which currently stands at 30, is likely to shoot up as more bodies are discovered in the ruins and floodwaters left behind by the storm.

“You smell the decomposing bodies as you walk through Marsh Harbour,” said Sandra Sweeting, 37, in an interview amid the wreckage on Great Abaco. “It’s everywhere. There are a lot of people who aren’t going to make it off this island.”

Some locals called the government’s initial official death toll a tragic underestimate.

“I work part-time in a funeral home, I know what death smells like,” said Anthony Thompson, 27. “There must be hundreds. Hundreds.”

Asked if any of his friends or family had perished, Thompson looked at the ground.

“I don’t want to ask, because there are people I still haven’t heard from,” he said.

Chaotic conditions around the islands were interfering with flights and boats, hampering relief efforts.

“Obviously, we have to take care of the sick and the injured first, but we’re also making preparations for the dead,” Dr. Caroline Burnett-Garraway, medical chief of staff at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, told CNN by phone.

Many of those injured by the storm, which had been a Category 5 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity, were being airlifted to the hospital with fractures and head injuries and suffering from trauma and dehydration, said Burnett-Garraway, who expects a “second wave” of patients in the coming days.

With many clinics in the northern Bahamas flooded and unable to receive the injured, relief groups are focusing on getting doctors, nurses and medical supplies into the hardest-hit areas and helping survivors get food and safe drinking water.

The risk of outbreaks of diarrhea and waterborne diseases is high because drinking water may be contaminated with sewage, according to the Pan American Health Organization, which described the situation for some people on Abaco as “desperate.”

The United Nations estimated 70,000 people were in immediate need of food, water and shelter on the islands, where looting of liquor stores and supermarkets has been reported.

The relief effort faces formidable logistical challenges because of the widespread destruction of Dorian, which hovered over the Bahamas for nearly two days with torrential rains and fierce winds that whipped up 12- to 18-foot (3.7- to 5.5-meter) storm surges.

The storm made landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Friday with winds of 90 miles per hour (150 km/h).

EMERGENCY OPERATION

The U.N. World Food Programme said on Thursday it was organizing an airlift from Panama of storage units, generators and prefab offices for two logistics hubs, as well as satellite equipment for emergency responders, and has bought 8 metric tonnes of ready-to-eat meals.

The U.N. agency has allocated $5.4 million to a three-month emergency operation to support 39,000 people, a spokesman said.

A flight from the U.S. Agency for International Development landed early on Thursday with enough relief supplies to help 31,500 people, bringing hygiene kits, water containers and buckets, plastic sheeting and chain saws.

Total insured and uninsured losses in the Bahamas amounted to $7 billion, including buildings and business interruptions, according to a preliminary estimate by Karen Clark & Co, a consultancy that provides catastrophic modeling and risk management services.

(Reporting by Nick Brown in Sandy Point, Bahamas, additional reporting by Dante Carrer in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas and Peter Szekely and Matthew Lavietes in New York; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)