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)

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)

Hurricane Dorian hits North Carolina’s Outer Banks

A fallen tree and flood waters sit in a hotel parking lot after Hurricane Dorian swept through, in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

By Amanda Becker

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (Reuters) – Hurricane Dorian made landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Friday, hitting the beach resort area with powerful winds and battering waves days after reducing parts of the Bahamas to rubble.

The storm, packing 90-mile-per-hour winds (150 km-per-hour) made landfall at Cape Hatteras at about 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT), according to the National Hurricane Center.

It lashed the Outer Banks with hurricane-force winds as far as 45 miles (72 km) from the center of the hurricane and sent tropical storm winds farther than 200 miles (320 km) from its center, the NHC said.

It has already dumped up to 10 inches (25 cm) of rain along the coast between Charleston, South Carolina, to Wilmington, North Carolina, about 170 miles (275 km) away, forecasters said.

“The rain is moving up north,” said National Weather Service forecaster Alex Lamers early on Friday. “Even the Raleigh-Durham area inland will get 3 inches today.”

Dorian is expected to push out to sea later on Friday and bring tropical storm winds to Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, early on Saturday.

But it will likely spare much of the rest of the East Coast the worst of its rain and wind, before likely making landfall in Canada’s Nova Scotia that night, the NHC said.

“It’s in the process of moving out, going north,” Lamers said.

The howling west flank of Dorian has soaked the Carolinas since early Thursday, flooding coastal towns, whipping up more than a dozen tornadoes and cutting power to hundreds of thousands of people.

Floodwaters rose to a foot (30 cm) or more in parts of the historic South Carolina port city of Charleston, where more than 7 inches (18 cm) of rain fell in some areas, officials said. Another half-inch or more was expected overnight Friday.

More than 330,000 homes and businesses were without power in North Carolina and South Carolina on Friday morning. Power had mostly been restored to thousands of people in Georgia, tracking site poweroutage.us showed.

But as Dorian is expected to pick up speed from its 14 mph (22 kph) crawl on Friday, life-threatening storm surges and dangerous winds remain a threat for much of the area and Virginia, the National Hurricane Center said.

Governors in the region declared states of emergency, shut schools, opened shelters, readied National Guard troops and urged residents to heed warnings, as news media circulated fresh images of the storm’s devastation in the Bahamas.

At least 70,000 Bahamians needed immediate humanitarian relief after Dorian became the most damaging storm ever to hit the island nation.

A city park and playground are inundated with flood waters from Hurricane Dorian in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

A city park and playground are inundated with flood waters from Hurricane Dorian in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

In the Carolinas alone, more than 900,000 people had been ordered to evacuate their homes. It was unclear how many did so.

In Kill Devil Hills in the Outer Banks, Mark Jennings decided to ignore the order, lining his garage door with sandbags and boarding up his home with plywood.

The retired firefighter planned to stay put with his wife and two dogs, saying: “We are ready to go. If something happens, we can still get out of here.”

Dorian whipped up at least three tornadoes in the region, officials said. One in North Carolina damaged scores of trailers at a campground in Emerald Isle, but no one was injured, the News & Observer said.

Of at least four storm-related deaths reported in the United States, three were in Orange County, Florida, during storm preparations or evacuation, the mayor’s office said.

In North Carolina, an 85-year-old man fell off a ladder while barricading his home for Dorian, the governor said.

(Reporting by Nick Carey in Charleston, South Carolina, and Amanda Becker in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen, Peter Szekely, Matt Lavietes and Scott DiSavino in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Alison Williams, Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Bahamas hurricane survivors tell of children swept away; death toll reaches 30

FILE PHOTO: A man walks through the rubble in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

By Dante Carrer

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas (Reuters) – Richard Johnson said his six-year-old brother Adrian was just too small to withstand Hurricane Dorian. The boy was blown into churning storm surge and is among thousands of people missing, many of them children, after the worst hurricane to hit the Bahamas.

It was one of many harrowing stories emerging on Thursday as residents searched for loved ones and widespread looting was reported on the islands, where the United Nations estimates 70,000 people are in immediate need of food, water and shelter.

An international relief effort was trying to overcome formidable logistical challenges to help the Bahamas, where the health minister predicted a “staggering” death toll from Hurricane Dorian, now churning northward off the coast of South Carolina.

“I guess within seconds the gusts of the wind blew the little boy off the roof into the water,” Johnson said of his brother. “Given the circumstances, I’m not that hopeful.”

Aerial video of the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas, worst hit by the then-Category 5 hurricane, showed widespread devastation, with the harbor, shops and workplaces, a hospital and airport landing strips damaged or decimated.

FILE PHOTO: Aerial image of the island Great Abaco, shows the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian, Bahamas, September 3, 2019. UK Ministry of Defence/Handout via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: Aerial image of the island Great Abaco, shows the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian, Bahamas, September 3, 2019. UK Ministry of Defence/Handout via REUTERS

The death toll from Dorian stood at 30 on Thursday evening, officials told CNN, The final toll is expected to be much higher.

“Let me say that I believe the number will be staggering,” Health Minister Duane Sands was quoted by The Nassau Guardian as telling Guardian radio. “… I have never lived through anything like this and I don’t want to live through anything like this again.”

Dorian turned a shantytown known as The Mud near Marsh Harbour into shredded wreckage, with bodies believed to be still below the ruins, based on the smell coming from the debris, according to a Reuters photographer who visited the area.

The photographer witnessed widespread looting in Marsh Harbour, seeing residents breaking into liquor stores and supermarkets, carrying off goods in bags or filling their vehicles.

$7 BILLION IN DAMAGE

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) 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 eight 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, said WFP Senior Spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel.

Displaced Haitian nationals take refuge on the grounds of the Government complex in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

Displaced Haitian nationals take refuge on the grounds of the Government complex in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

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.

With telephones down in many areas, residents posted lists of missing loved ones on social media. One Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas had 2,500 comments, mainly listing lost family members.

One survivor on the Abaco Islands, Ramond King, said he watched as swirling winds ripped the roof off his house, then churned to a neighbor’s home to pluck the entire structure into the sky.

“‘This can’t be real, this can’t be real’,” King recalled thinking. “Nothing is here, nothing at all. Everything is gone, just bodies.”

FILE PHOTO: Families react as they are reunited after a church group was evacuated from the Abaco Islands after Hurricane Dorian made landfall in Nassau, Bahamas September 4, 2019. Picture taken September 4, 2019. REUTERS/John Marc Nutt

FILE PHOTO: Families react as they are reunited after a church group was evacuated from the Abaco Islands after Hurricane Dorian made landfall in Nassau, Bahamas September 4, 2019. Picture taken September 4, 2019. REUTERS/John Marc Nutt

RELIEF EFFORTS

The Netherlands’ ambassador to the United Nations tweeted the country was sending two naval ships with supplies from St Maarten, a Dutch island about 1,100 miles (1,770 km) southeast of the Bahamas.

Jamaica was sending a 150-member military contingent to help secure Abaco and Grand Bahama, officials said.

Volunteers also ferried supplies to the islands in a flotilla of small boats.

Cruise lines responded as well.

The Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line said it would transport first responders, medics and journalists for free to Freeport on Thursday, returning to Florida on Friday with any Bahamians who have documents to enter the United States.

“It’s a humanitarian trip. We’re also taking donations that have arrived in the port (in Palm Beach),” said Francisco Sanchez, a sales representative for the cruise line.

Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas said it was delivering 10,000 meals of chicken, rice and fruit to Grand Bahama.

Dorian 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.

On Thursday, the storm was barreling north-northeast just off the southeastern U.S. coast, moving at about 7 miles per hour (11 kph), with maximum sustained winds fluctuating between 110 and 115 mph (175-185 kph), between a Category 2 and Category 3 storm on the five-point Saffir-Simpson wind scale.

(Reporting by Nick Brown in Nassau, Bahamas and Dante Carrer in Marsh Harbor Bahamas, Nick Carey in Charleston, South Carolina, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Rebekah Ward in Mexico City, Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Grant McCool)

Floodwaters rise on Charleston’s streets as Hurricane Dorian skirts U.S. coast

Nathan Piper, 11, is swamped by increasingly rough waves while body surfing as Hurricane Dorian approaches, in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

By Nick Carey and Amanda Becker

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Deserted, rain-lashed streets in Charleston, South Carolina, vanished beneath water on Thursday as Hurricane Dorian churned a few dozen miles offshore after reducing parts of the Bahamas to rubble.

Water pooled a few inches deep near the centuries-old waterfront. In certain low-lying blocks, it rose to a foot or more, as high tide approached and forecasters warned of storm surges of up to 8 feet (2 meters).

John Rivers, 74, and his three children were among the few to be seen in the streets on Thursday. They cleared drains of branches, leaves and debris, using a shovel, a rake and their bare hands.

“We’re giving the water somewhere to go,” Rivers said, sheltering temporarily from the driving rain and gusts of wind under a covered walkway. His daughter Caroline, 12, pulled off her rubber boots one at a time, emptying a stream of water from each. “I see this as a good life lesson for my kids,” Rivers said.

Officials said Thursday afternoon that more than 7 inches (18 cm) of rain had fallen in parts of Charleston.

Dorian was about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off Charleston on Thursday, wavering in strength between a Category 2 and 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson wind scale. It was forecast to possibly make landfall in North Carolina late Thursday or early Friday.

Life-threatening storm surges and dangerous winds were possible in much of the coast of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, the National Weather Service said.

Dorian whipped up at least three tornados in the region, officials said. One in North Carolina damaged scores of trailers in a campground in Emerald Isle, but no one was injured, North Carolina’s News & Observer reported.

Governors in the region declared states of emergency, closed schools, opened shelters, readied national guard troops and implored residents to take warnings seriously, as fresh images of the devastation wrought by the storm in the Bahamas earlier this week continued to circulate in the media.

At least 70,000 Bahamians needed immediate humanitarian relief after Dorian became the most damaging storm ever to hit the island nation.

In the Carolinas alone, more than 900,000 people had been ordered to evacuate their homes. It was unclear how many did so.

In Kill Devil Hills, in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Mark Jennings decided to ignore the order, lining his garage door with sandbags and boarding up his home with plywood.

The retired firefighter planned to stay put with his wife and two dogs: “We are ready to go. If something happens, we can still get out of here.”

FOUR DEATHS IN THE U.S.

At least four storm-related deaths have already been reported. Three people died in Orange County, Florida, during storm preparations or evacuation, according to the Orange County mayor’s office. In North Carolina, an 85-year-old man fell off a ladder while barricading his home for Dorian, the governor said.

More than 210,000 homes and businesses were without power in South Carolina and Georgia early on Thursday, according to local electric companies.

On Charleston’s historic South Battery Street, which runs down to the harbor, Brys Stephens tried to keep the water away from his stately home, built in the veranda-wrapped Southern style that lures crowds of tourists to the city.

He and his family pumped water out of the yard and tried to reattach metal flood gates into the perimeter wall.

“The gates worked pretty well so far and we’ve managed to keep water away from the house,” Stephens said. “But we’ve got another storm surge coming later on, so we’ll see then if it holds.”

(Reporting by Nick Carey in Charleston, South Carolina, and Amanda Becker in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen, Peter Szekely, Matt Lavietes and Scott DiSavino in New York; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

‘Everything is gone:’ Bahamians struggle in Dorian’s devastating wake death toll 20

Patients and their families crowd the entrance of the Marsh Harbour Medical Clinic in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

By Nick Brown

NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) – Stunned residents of the Bahamas surveyed the wreckage of their homes and officials struggled to assess the number killed by Hurricane Dorian, as the storm bore down on the South Carolina coast, threatening record flooding on Thursday.

The United Nations said 70,000 people in the Bahamas needed immediate humanitarian relief after the most damaging storm ever to hit the island nation.

Aerial video of the worst-hit Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas showed widespread devastation, with the harbor, shops, workplaces, a hospital and airport landing strips damaged or decimated, frustrating rescue efforts.

One of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record, Dorian was rated a Category 5 hurricane when it killed at least 20 people in the Bahamas. Authorities expect that number to rise, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said at a news briefing, as retreating floodwaters revealed the scope of destruction.

“My island of Abaco, everything is gone. No banks, no stores, no nothing,” said Marsh Harbour resident, Ramond A. King as he surveyed the wreckage of his home, which had its roof ripped off and debris scattered throughout. “Everything is gone, just bodies.”

With telephones down in many areas, residents posted lists of missing loved ones on social media. One Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas had 2,500 comments, mainly listing lost family members.

Hurricane Dorian's destruction is seen on the Marsh Harbour in Abaco Islands, Bahamas, September 4, 2019 in this photo grab obtained from a social media video by Reuters on September 5, 2019. Ramond A King via REUTERS

Hurricane Dorian’s destruction is seen on the Marsh Harbour in Abaco Islands, Bahamas, September 4, 2019 in this photo grab obtained from a social media video by Reuters on September 5, 2019. Ramond A King via REUTERS

Dorian killed one person in Puerto Rico before hovering over the Bahamas for two days with torrential rains and fierce winds that whipped up 12- to 18-foot (3.7- to 5.5-meter) storm surges.

POSSIBLE RECORD SURGE

South Carolina was preparing for a record storm surge, potentially reaching a height of 8 feet (2 meters) at the popular vacation destination of Myrtle Beach, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.

The storm was located about 70 miles (115 km) south-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, at 8 a.m. EST (1200 GMT) on Thursday and was headed north-northeast at about 8 miles per hour (13 kph), the NHC said. It was packing 115 mph (185 kph) winds.

About a foot (30 cm) of rain will drop on flood-prone Charleston and many parts of the coasts of the Carolinas on Thursday and Friday, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“It’s pretty substantial,” he said early Thursday. “It’s already raining heavy in Charleston and up and down the coast.”

More than 185,000 homes and businesses were without power along the South Carolina and Georgia coastal areas, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us.

The streets of downtown Charleston were all but deserted early Thursday as driving rain and strong winds lashed the city.

On South Battery Street, a block away from the water, Brys Stephens and his family worked hard to keep the water away from a large gray home with white verandas along the front, the type of home that has made Charleston famous and is a major tourist draw.

He was working to reattach metal flood gates to a sturdy high wall fronting the property.

“The gates worked pretty well so far and we’ve managed to keep water away from the house,” Stephens said. “But we’ve got another storm surge coming later on, so we’ll see then if it holds.”

The NHC’s storm surge warning covered parts of the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina stretching from the Savannah River and extending to southern Virginia.

More than 2.2 million people in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina have been ordered to evacuate, although Florida has avoided a direct hit.

Damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

Damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

RELIEF EFFORTS

An international relief effort was underway for the Bahamas, with a British Royal Navy vessel providing assistance and Jamaica sending a 150-member military contingent to help secure Abaco and Grand Bahama, officials said.

Volunteers also ferried supplies to the islands in a flotilla of small boats.

“Let us give of our best in this moment of historic tragedy,” Minnis said.

He also encouraged international tourists to visit the Bahamas, which relies heavily on its hospitality industry.

As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

Norwegian energy company Equinor said it had discovered a spill on the ground outside tanks at its damaged storage terminal in the Bahamas, but was unclear on volumes and had not seen any oil at sea.

The State Department said it did not believe any U.S. citizens who were in the Bahamas during the storm were killed.

President Donald Trump said the United States was sending supplies, including materials originally intended for any Dorian victims in Florida.

(Reporting by Nick Brown in Nassau, Bahamas, additional reporting by Nick Carey in Charleston, South Carolina, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Rebekah Ward in Mexico City, Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico and Rich McKay in Atlanta, writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Graff and Bernadette Baum)

Bahamas in crisis after Hurricane Dorian flattens homes, food scarce

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas,September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

By Dante Carrer

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas (Reuters) – Survivors of Hurricane Dorian on Wednesday picked through the wreckage of homes ripped open by fierce winds, struggled to fuel generators and queued for food after one of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record devastated parts of the Bahamas.

The most damaging storm to strike the island nation, Dorian killed at least seven people, but the scope of the destruction and a humanitarian crisis was still coming into focus as aerial video of the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas showed wide devastation.

Dozens of people took to Facebook to search for missing loved ones, and aid agencies estimated that tens of thousands of people out of the Bahamas population of 400,000 would need food and other support.

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas,September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas,September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

“We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history,” Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told a news conference. “We can expect more deaths to be recorded. This is just preliminary information.”

LaQuez Williams, pastor at Jubilee Cathedral in Grand Bahama, opened the church as a shelter for about 150 people. As the storm ground on, Williams said that from the higher ground of the church he could see people on their rooftops seeking refuge.

“They were calling for help, but you could not go out to reach,” Williams said. “It was very difficult because you felt helpless.”

Aerial video of Great Abaco Island showed miles of flooded neighborhoods littered with upturned boats and shipping containers scattered like toys. Many buildings had walls or roofs partly ripped off.

“Victims are being loaded on flatbed trucks across Abaco,” one Twitter user with the handle @mvp242 said, describing a rain-blurred photograph of limp bodies strewn across a truck bed.

Other posts on Twitter said entire communities were swept away. Photographs from the airport at Freeport showed a light plane torn in two, with hangars badly damaged and scattered debris.

After rampaging through the Caribbean as one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded, Dorian’s wind speeds dropped on Tuesday to make it a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale. It maintained that level on Wednesday, but forecasters warned it was still dangerous.

Some minor flooding occurs on the bridges from the beach towards communities from Hurricane Dorian in Jacksonville, Florida, U.S. September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Maria Alejandra Cardona

Some minor flooding occurs on the bridges from the beach towards communities from Hurricane Dorian in Jacksonville, Florida, U.S. September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Maria Alejandra Cardona

DANGER FOR U.S. COAST

Residents of coastal Florida, Georgia and South Carolina were preparing for Dorian’s approach on Wednesday, with the National Hurricane Center warning it could make landfall in South or North Carolina on Thursday or Friday.

South Carolina officials said they were expecting storm surges of four to eight feet and wind gusts of 90 mph (140 kph) on Thursday, and told people to evacuate the coast as Dorian drew closer.

“It’s getting here a little weaker than it could have but now it’s gotten here,” Governor Henry McMaster said at a news conference. “Time to get out is running out.”

Florida avoided a direct hit from Dorian.

“We certainly got lucky in Florida, and now if we could get lucky in Georgia, in North Carolina, in South Carolina,” President Donald Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

People crept back into Jacksonville Beach as Florida appeared to be escaping the worst of the storm, with a couple of people seen surfing by its pier on Wednesday morning.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp extended a state of emergency to cover 21 counties as the storm tracked north towards its coast. The emergency covers more than 900,000 Georgia residents, of whom over 400,000 have been ordered to evacuate, according to the state Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.

Dorian had sustained winds near 105 miles per hour (165 kph) as it churned about 90 miles (140 km) northeast of Daytona Beach, Florida around midday on Wednesday, the NHC said.

Hurricane-force winds had expanded to 60 miles (100 km) from the storm’s core.

Heavy rains and storm-surge waters moving inland could cause life-threatening flash floods, the NHC said. The risk extended from Jupiter, Florida, to Surf City, North Carolina. Tornadoes were possible along the Florida coast, with the risk later moving to Georgia and South Carolina.

BAHAMAS BATTERED

With many telephones down on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, residents posted lists of missing loved ones on social media sites.

A single Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas seeking the names of missing people had 2,000 comments listing lost family members since it went live on Tuesday, although some of the comments were also about loved ones being found.

Janith Mullings, 66, from Freeport, Grand Bahama, said she had been through hurricanes all her life but had never seen anything like Dorian.

“We’ve never had hurricanes in none of our islands that have experienced the ocean rising like it did. The ocean was something no one could prepare for,” she said.

As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

“It’s heartbreaking …,” said Caroline Turnquest, director general of Bahamas Red Cross. “We know from what we’ve been seeing and hearing, that this one will require the help of all the persons.”

Food may be required for 14,500 people in the Abaco Islands and for 45,700 people in Grand Bahama, the U.N. World Food Programme said.

The State Department said it did not believe any U.S. citizens who were in the Bahamas, a popular tourist destination, during the storm were killed.

U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection personnel have airlifted 61 people from the northern Bahamas to the capital Nassau over two days, the U.S. Embassy said.

(Reporting by Dante Carrer in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Jacksonville, Florida, Gabriella Borter in Titusville, Florida, Peter Szekely, Jonathan Allen and Matthew Lavietes in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta, Writing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)