Spitting volcano keeps search parties off New Zealand island, death toll rises to six

By Charlotte Greenfield

WHAKATANE, New Zealand (Reuters) – Fearing a volcano could erupt again, search parties were unable to set foot on New Zealand’s White Island for eight people still missing on Tuesday, as police raised the death toll to six from the eruption a day earlier.

Police doubted whether any more survivors would be found. They said the latest victim died in hospital, having been among more than 30 people injured in the eruption on the uninhabited island, a popular sightseeing excursion for tourists.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said reconnaissance flights showed no signs of life on the ash covered island, as eyewitnesses detailed the horrific burns suffered by those caught up in Monday’s eruption.

“The scale of this tragedy is devastating,” Ardern said in parliament. “To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your grief and sorrow and we are devastated.”

Police said 47 people were on White Island at the time of the eruption.

Twenty-four came from Australia, nine from the United States, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two each from China and the Britain and one from Malaysia.

“I would strongly suggest that there is no one that has survived on the island,” police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said of the eight people still missing.

Most of the injured had suffered greater than 71% body surface burns, said Peter Watson, the government’s chief medical officer, warning that some might not survive.

Burn units across the South Pacific nation of 4.5 million are full to capacity, he added.

Relatives of missing tour guide Tipene Maangi held onto hopes that the 23-year-old man had survived, unsure whether he was among those in hospital.

“We are all standing strong, standing together, holding the fort together, and like I said in prayer with faith… we are just staying strong for one another until we actually know for sure,” said his aunt Ronnie.

Police said an investigation into the deaths on White Island had been launched but clarified it was not a criminal investigation.

New Zealand’s geological hazards agency GeoNet raised the alert level for the volcano in November because of an increase in volcanic activity. The volcano’s last fatal eruption was in 1914, when it killed 12 sulphur miners.

Yet, daily tours bring more than 10,000 visitors to the privately owned island every year, marketed as “the world’s most accessible active marine volcano”.

“I have to say that I’m very surprised to hear there were visitors there today, because scientists seem to have been well aware that White Island was entering a phase of heightened activity,” said Drexel University volcanologist Loÿc Vanderkluysen.

“I’ve been to White Island before, but I don’t think I would have been comfortable being there today.”

A crater rim camera owned and operated by GeoNet showed one group of people walking away from the rim inside the crater just a minute before the explosion.

“It’s now clear that there were two groups on the island – those who were able to be evacuated and those who were close to the eruption,” Ardern said at a morning news conference in Whakatane, a town on the mainland’s east coast, about 50 km (30 miles) from White Island.

INCREDIBLY BRAVE

Later, in parliament, she paid tribute to the pilots of four helicopters that landed on White Island in the aftermath of the eruption.

“In their immediate efforts to get people off the island, those pilots made an incredibly brave decision under extremely dangerous circumstances,” Ardern said.

Since then, rescuers have been unable to access the island, which is covered in gray ash. GNS Science, New Zealand’s geoscience agency, warned there was a 50/50 chance of another eruption in the coming 24 hours, as the volcano vent continued to emit “steam and mud jetting.”

The Buttle family have owned the island for over 80 years, and a spokesman said they were devastated by the tragic event.

“We wish to thank everyone involved in the rescue effort, including the first responders, medical personnel and the locals who helped evacuate people from the island,” Peter Buttle said. “Their efforts have been both courageous and extraordinary.”

Royal Caribbean confirmed several passengers on its 16-deck cruise liner, Ovation of the Seas, were on a day trip to the island but did not provide further information.

Janet Urey, 61, a nurse from Richmond, Virginia, said her son Matthew, 36, and his wife, Janet, 32, were cruise passengers injured in the eruption while on their honeymoon.

“The phone rang at midnight. Then I heard a voicemail come on. It was my son. He said, ‘Mom … this is not a joke. A volcano erupted while we were on the island. We’re at the hospital with severe burns.'”

Urey said she was frustrated by the lack of information from the cruise ship he was on and from authorities.

“I have not heard a word from the cruise people,” she said.

A New Zealand man, Geoff Hopkins, whose tour group was just leaving the island at the time of the eruption, said he helped pull critically injured survivors into a boat.

Hopkins, 50, who was given the tour as a birthday gift, said many of the survivors had run into the sea to escape the eruption.

“People were in shorts and T-shirts so there was a lot of exposed skin that was massively burnt,” he told the NZ Herald newspaper.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said three Australians were feared to be among the confirmed fatalities, with 13 among the injured.

A website managed by the New Zealand Red Cross listed 17 Australians as missing though some could be among those in hospital.

Malaysia’s high commission in New Zealand said one Malaysian was among the dead, while Britain’s high commissioner to New Zealand confirmed two British women were among the injured.

Russell Clark, an intensive care paramedic with a helicopter team, said the early scenes were overwhelming.

“Everything was just blanketed in ash,” he told Reuters. “It was quite an overwhelming feeling.”

‘Whakaari’, as it is known in the Maori language, is New Zealand’s most-active cone volcano, built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years, according to GeoNet.

(GRAPHIC – Volcanic Eruption in New Zealand – https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4PR2DX/nzl-volcano.jpg)

(GRAPHIC – Volcano map of New Zealand – https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4PY2EJ/New-Zealand-Volcano-Map.jpg)

(GRAPHIC – Volcanic alerts for White Island since 1995 – https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4Q22ES/New-Zealand-Volcano-Alerts.jpg)

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Whakatane and Praveen Menon in Wellington, additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Jane Wardell and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Gerry Doyle & Simon Cameron-Moore)

More than two dozen people feared missing after New Zealand volcanic eruption kills 5

More than two dozen people feared missing after New Zealand volcanic eruption kills 5
By Charlotte Greenfield

WHAKATANE, New Zealand (Reuters) – More than two dozen people were feared missing on Tuesday, a day after a volcano that is a tourist attraction suddenly erupted off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island, killing at least five people and injuring up to 20.

Police said early on Tuesday they did not expect to find any more survivors from the volcanic eruption, which occurred on White Island on Monday at about 2:11 p.m. (0111 GMT), spewing a plume of ash thousands of feet into the air.

About 50 people, New Zealanders as well as foreign tourists, are believed to have been nearby at the time and several were seen near the rim of the crater minutes before the eruption.

Rescue services have been unable to reach White Island as it remains too dangerous.

“No signs of life have been seen at any point,” the police said in their statement early on Tuesday after rescue helicopters and other aircraft had carried out a number of aerial reconnaissance flights over the island.

“Police believe that anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued at the time of the evacuation.”

Tour operators took some people off the island before it was declared unsafe. Twenty-three people were rescued, police said on Monday, adding that others were still on the island.

“Police (are) working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died…” their statement said, adding that a ship would approach the island at first light on Tuesday to further “assess the environment”.

Many day tours visit the island regularly. One from a 16-deck cruise liner, Ovation of the Seas, was there at the time.

“Both New Zealanders and overseas tourists are believed to (have been) involved, and a number were from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship,” the police statement said.

St. John Ambulance said up to 20 people were believed to have been injured in the eruption, adding that a mobile triage unit was on its way.

Several people with burn injuries were brought by helicopter to Whakatane, the nearest town on the mainland.

“I know there will be a huge amount of concern and anxiety for those who had loved ones on or around the island at the time. I can assure them that police are doing everything they can,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference after landing in Whakatane late on Monday.

Ardern was expected to give an update on the situation at a news conference set for 7 a.m. on Tuesday (1800 GMT on Monday).

“DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN”

Michael Schade, an engineering manager from San Francisco, was one of the tourists who made it off the island just before the eruption.

“This is so hard to believe,” Schade said in a video posted on Twitter as he sped away from the island by boat. “Our whole tour group were literally standing at the edge of the main crater not 30 minutes before.”

A crater rim camera owned and operated by New Zealand science agency GeoNet shows groups of people walking toward and away from the rim inside the crater, from which white vapor constantly billows, in the hour leading up to the eruption.

White Island is about 50 km (30 miles) from the east coast of North Island and huge plumes were visible from the mainland. Volcanologists said the ash plume shot 12,000 feet (3,658 m) into the air.

“White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years,” said Ray Cas, a professor emeritus at Monash University, in comments published by the Australian Science Media Center.

“Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter.”

Geological hazard tracker GeoNet raised the alert level for the White Island volcano in November due to an increase in volcanic activity.

The White Island volcano’s last fatal eruption was in 1914, when it killed 12 sulfur miners. There was a short-lived eruption in April 2016. Daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit the volcano every year.

‘Whakaari’, as it is known in the Maori language, is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years, GeoNet said.

About 70 percent is under the sea, making the massive volcanic structure the largest in New Zealand.

(For a graphic on ‘Volcanic Eruption in New Zealand’ click https://graphics.reuters.com/NEW%20ZEALAND-VOLCANO/0100B4PR2DX/nzl-volcano.jpg)

(Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

U.S. launches anti-violence effort for indigenous women, girls

U.S. launches anti-violence effort for indigenous women, girls
By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – U.S. President Donald Trump launched a task force on Tuesday to help protect Native American women and children, calling the rate of violence among indigenous people “heartbreaking.”

The task force aims to improve coordination and communication among federal, state and tribal authorities in response to cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and children, the White House said in a statement.

Native American women in some tribal communities are 10 times more likely than the average American to be murdered, it said, and the initiative called Operation Lady Justice is an “aggressive, government-wide strategy” to address the crisis.

“The statistics are sobering and heartbreaking,” Trump said at a White House ceremony where he signed an executive order creating the task force. “Too many are still missing and their whereabouts are unknown.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” he added.

Research by the National Institute of Justice, a government research agency, has found more than four out of five American Indian and Alaska Native women – more than 1.5 million women – have experienced violence in their lifetime.

More than 5,700 American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls were reported missing in 2016, according to the National Crime Information Center, a government data agency.

American Indian women are two-and-a-half times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women of all other races, while one in three reports having been raped, the U.S. Department of Justice has said.

“It’s imperative that this changes, in a manner that we’re looked at not as the second-class citizens but looked like, looked at as any other group that exists within the continent of the United States,” said Kevin DuPuis, chairman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, at the White House event.

“It’s very, very important that we, as a people, have a true identity. And when we lose our women and we lose our children that goes with them,” he said.

Several leading Native American rights organizations did not respond to requests for comment on the new task force.

Law enforcement and prosecutions are often hampered by a maze of jurisdictions and justice systems based on such factors as whether a crime occurred on tribal land or whether the victim or the accused is a tribal member.

Last week the government announced an initiative to spend $1.5 million for law enforcement to help coordinate Native American missing persons cases.

Nearly seven million Native Americans live in the United States making up about 2% of the population, according to census figures.

Trump’s signing of the order came two days before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday which commemorates a harvest celebration shared by Native Americans and European settlers in the 17th century.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Chris Michaud (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Many still missing after deadly attack near Canadian-run mine in Burkina Faso

Many still missing after deadly attack near Canadian-run mine in Burkina Faso
OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – Dozens of people were feared still missing on Thursday after an ambush on workers near a Canadian-owned mine in Burkina Faso killed at least 37 and wounded 60 in the worst such attack in the West African nation for years.

Quebec-based gold miner Semafo <SMF.TO> said five of its buses with a military escort came under fire on the road leading to its Boungou mine in the eastern region of Est, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Boungou, on Wednesday.

The assailants’ identity was unclear, but Burkina Faso is struggling to combat surging Islamist violence in the remote eastern and northern scrubland areas. It was unclear exactly how many people were in the convoy, what their nationalities were or how many were missing. But the company has said that under new safety guidelines, Burkinabe employees travel to and from the mine with a military escort by road while international staff are flown by helicopter.

Semafo had tightened security last year following attacks that killed three workers and five security officials.

Two separate sources who have worked at the mine said that the convoy left weekly carrying about 250 local staff usually in five buses of 50 to 60 people each.

Two security sources told Reuters that dozens may still be unaccounted for.

Government and military officials declined to comment.

A spokesperson for Canada’s foreign ministry said there were no reports so far of any of its nationals being affected.

Once a pocket of relative calm in the Sahel region, Burkina has suffered a homegrown insurgency for the past three years, amplified by a spillover of jihadist violence and criminality from its chaotic northern neighbor Mali.

Wednesday’s attack is the worst since jihadist groups with links to Islamic State and al Qaeda began targeting the landlocked nation with high profile attacks in January 2016.

Then, armed al Qaeda militants killed 32 people in a raid on a popular cafe and hotel in the capital Ouagadougou.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Rescuers search waist-high muddy waters for missing people in typhoon-hit Japan

By Kwiyeon Ha and Kyung Hoon Kim

NAGANO, Japan (Reuters) – Rescue workers waded through muddy, waist-high waters on Monday searching for missing people after one of the worst typhoons to hit Japan in recent history, while rain fell again in some affected areas, stoking fears of further flooding.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said vast areas had been struck by the storm and called for urgent support to those affected.

At least 56 people were killed in the typhoon, which left vast sections of towns in central and eastern Japan under water, with another 15 missing and 211 injured, public broadcaster NHK said.

Tens of thousands of rescue workers and a fleet of helicopters fanned out in the affected areas, officials said.

“There still are many residents who have yet to be accounted for. Our people in uniform are working day and night in search and rescue operations,” Abe told an emergency meeting of ministers.

“Damage has been made in an extremely wide range of areas, and more than 30,000 people are still being forced to remain in the state of evacuation. It is our urgent task to offer meticulous support to those who have been affected.”

Typhoon Hagibis, which means “speed” in the Philippine language Tagalog, made landfall on Japan’s main island of Honshu on Saturday and headed out to sea early on Sunday.

Groups of rescuers wearing goggles and snorkels looked for survivors while making their way in waist-high water in Nagano, central Japan, where the Chikuma River inundated swathes of land. A middle-aged man in Nagano, asked about the situation around his house, told NHK: “It’s just like a lake.”

Yoshinobu Tsuchiya, 69, returned on Monday morning to his home in Nagano city, near where the Chikuma had breached its banks, to find that his first floor had been flooded and that the garden he tended had turned to brown mud.

“So this is what it’s come to,” Tsuchiya sighed to the Nikkei newspaper. “I can’t even imagine when we’ll finish cleaning up. I’m sick of this flood.”

A neighbour in his 60s told the newspaper: “This is just like a tsunami. This is hopeless.”

At a second emergency meeting on Monday, Abe urged ministers to do their utmost to help evacuees return to normal life as soon as possible.

More than 110,000 police officers, firefighters, soldiers and coastguard personnel, as well as some 100 helicopters, were mobilised for Monday’s rescue operations, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Heavy rain was forecast for Monday night in some parts of central and eastern Japan, where soil is already loosened by record-breaking downpours from the typhoon, prompting Suga to urge residents to keep their guard up.

“Rain is expected in affected areas today. Because of the rain we have seen so far, levels of water are high in some rivers and soil is loose in some areas,” Suga said. “Please remain on your guard for landslides and river overflows.”

A Nagano city official said there were some showers by early afternoon, although they were not heavy.

Some parts of Japan saw about one third of their average annual precipitation just over the weekend, causing 37 rivers to break their banks, NHK said.

More than 77,000 households were still without power by mid-afternoon on Monday, a national holiday, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said. That was down from 262,000 households as of midday on Sunday.

Also, about 136,000 households were without running water as of Monday morning, Suga said.

In Fukushima, north of the capital, Tokyo Electric Power Co <9501.T> reported nine cases of irregular readings from sensors monitoring water over the weekend at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was crippled by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

But a Tokyo Electric official said on Monday eight of the irregular readings were triggered by rainwater, and the other one by a malfunction of a monitor, and that there was no leakage of contaminated water.

(Reporting by Kyung Hoon Kim, Kwiyeon Ha; Writing by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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)

‘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)

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)