Charities, government agencies and even cruise ships loaded with supplies and volunteers have rushed emergency aid to the storm-ravaged Bahamas amid fears of a “staggering” death toll left in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.
Bahamas leaders believe hundreds and perhaps thousands are missing in the archipelago nation of about 400,000 people, even as the official death toll rose only to 43 as of late on Friday.
Large swaths of the northern Bahamas were rendered wastelands by the storm, with homes pulverised, cars and boats thrown around like toys and the smell of death permeating the air in parts of Great Abaco Island, one of the hardest hit.
Evacuees from Great Abaco poured into the capital Nassau, and a cruise ship arrived in Palm Beach, Florida with some 1100 people fleeing the destruction. Many of them faced uncertain futures.
Isaiah Johnson, 19, said that he, his mother and his three sisters fled Abaco after Dorian destroyed their home.
A wealthy friend bought them a two-week hotel stay in Nassau, but after that it was unclear where they would go.
His mother was already searching for work in the US, Johnson said, reckoning that jobs would be hard to find in Nassau.
“Two weeks might be enough time for me to figure things out,” Johnson said on Saturday. “For my mom, I’m not so sure.”
The US Coast Guard and Navy were shipping in relief supplies and had already rescued some 290 people from isolated areas in the islands hit hard by the storm.
Hurricane Dorian, the most powerful hurricane on record to hit the Bahamas, parked itself over part of the archipelago for almost two days earlier this week, pummelling it with Category 5 winds, with some gusts topping 320km/h.
Dorian levelled some neighbourhoods, swallowed others with storm surges and caused many deaths.
Dorian also devastated parts of the Outer Banks Islands in North Carolina on Friday and it continued to push northward along the US Atlantic coast on Saturday.
It brought tropical storm force winds to southeast Massachusetts and Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard on Saturday before charging on towards Canada at 47km/h, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.
It is expected to make landfall in Nova Scotia province on Saturday night with winds of about 137km/h and up to 18cm of rain.
The medical chief of staff at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau said two refrigerated, 12-metre trucks would be needed to hold the “staggering” number of bodies that were expected to be found.
“We’ve ordered lots of body bags,” Dr Caroline Burnett-Garraway said.
The United Nations estimated 70,000 people needed food, water and shelter.
The UN World Food Programme was airlifting storage units, generators, prefab offices, and satellite equipment as well as eight metric tons of ready-to-eat meals.
The American Red Cross said it had committed an initial US$2 million to help the Bahamas recover from the hurricane, with food, water and shelter and other necessities.