ABACO, Bahamas (AP) — Carrying their meager possessions in duffel bags and shopping carts, hundreds of desperate storm victims gathered at the port in Grand Abaco on Friday in hopes of getting off the hurricane-devastated island, amid signs of rising frustration over the pace of the disaster-relief effort.
“It’s chaos here,” said Gee Rolle, a 44-year-old construction worker who waited with his wife for a boat that could take them to the capital, Nassau. “The government is trying their best, but at the same time, I don’t think they’re doing a good enough job to evacuate the people. It ain’t livable for nobody. Only animals can live here.”
The Bahamian Health Ministry said helicopters and boats were on the way, but officials warned of delays because of severe flooding.
The search for victims and survivors went on, meanwhile, five days after Dorian slammed the Bahamas with 185 mph (295 kph) winds that obliterated countless homes. Health Minister Duane Sands reported late Friday that the official death toll had been raised to 43 from 30. “We expect it to rise,” Sands added in a text message to The Associated Press
At the port, some of those who lined up behind a yellow cloth tape arrived as early as 1 a.m., hoping to get to Nassau.
“It’s going to get crazy soon,” said Serge Simon, 39, who drives an ice truck and waited with his wife and two sons, 5 months old and 4. “There’s no food, no water. There are bodies in the water. People are going to start getting sick.”
There were no government-organized evacuations yet, but the Royal Bahamas Defense Force helped people board a 139-foot (42-meter) ferry that had come to pick up its employees and had room for an additional 160 people. The crowd waited calmly as marines separated women and children to let them board first.
Also, a barge that had dropped off port-a-potties and heavy equipment in Abaco took some 300 people to Nassau.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis spoke to the crowd at the port, using a Creole interpreter for a group of Haitians awaiting evacuation, and assured them: “All of you will be treated with respect.”
Minnis said he was satisfied with the speed of the government’s response and told the storm victims, “All I need you to do is just be patient and wait because everybody is coming.”
Officials said all ports had reopened.
An international company that owns an oil terminal on Grand Bahama said damage by the storm had resulted in a significant oil spill on the surrounding ground but added that so far there was no sign of leakage into the sea. The company, Equinor, which is majority-owned by Norway’s government, said it had not yet determined how much oil had leaked from the tanks, which can hold 6.75 million gallons of crude oil and condensate.
An array of organizations, countries and companies — including the United Nations, the U.S. government, the British Royal Navy, American Airlines and Royal Caribbean — have mobilized to send in food, water, generators, roof tarps, diapers, flashlights and other supplies.
The U.S. Coast Guard said it had rescued 239 people in the Bahamas and was still conducting search missions.
On hard-hit Grand Bahama Island, a long line formed at a cruise ship that had docked to distribute food and water. Among those waiting was Wellisy Taylor, a 65-year-old housewife.
“What we have to do as Bahamians, we have to band together. If your brother needs sugar, you’re going to have to give him sugar. If you need cream, they’ll have to give you cream,” she said. “That’s how I grew up. That’s the Bahamas that I know.”
Associated Press writers Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Marko Alvarez in Freeport, Bahamas; Carlton Nixon in Abaco; and Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, contributed to this report.
For more of AP’s coverage of Hurricane Dorian, go to: https://apnews.com/Hurricanes