An international relief operation is picking
© Gonzalo Gaudenzi/AP Photo
An international relief operation is picking up momentum after Hurricane Dorian flattened communities in the Bahamas
As recovery teams make their way to the hardest hit islands in the Bahamas, the death toll from Hurricane Dorian's strike on the archipelago has risen to 30.

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said the death toll was expected to rise as storm rescue workers scour islands.

The Bahamian government sent hundreds of police and marines into the stricken islands, along with doctors, nurses and other health care workers. The U.S. Coast Guard, Britain's Royal Navy and relief organizations, including the United Nations and the Red Cross, joined the growing effort to rush food and medicine to survivors and lift the most desperate people to safety by helicopter.

"We are seeing bravery and fortitude of Bahamians who endured hours and days of horror," Minnis said. "Our urgent task will be to provide food, water, shelter and safety and security."




Dr. Duane Sands, the Bahamas' minister of health, echoed the prime minister's prediction of more fatalities, telling MSNBC on Thursday that the government expects the death toll to "increase significantly."

Sands said 80 people with injuries were evacuated from the island of Abaco and five or six from Grand Bahama island. He said injuries ranged from broken bones to head injuries to "maternity-based issues." Sands said some among the dead succumbed to their injuries after being evacuated.

Dorian, which had Category 5 winds of 185 mph when it slammed into the island chain Sunday, is the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the Atlantic basin since 1935. Rescue efforts were hampered as Dorian stalled, grinding in place for hours instead of moving back over open ocean.

As help arrived, survivors described a horrific lashing from Dorian. Donnie Carey, 75, told NBC News that he and his wife had to flee to a friend's house after a storm surge near 25 feet sent water "bursting in the bottom of the house."

He said he feared he and wife would drown if they did not leave.

"The roof started to peel off," Carey said. "It was unbelievable."

Early reports said 13,000 homes and businesses were destroyed, but the final tally is likely to be much higher.

"It's total devastation. It's decimated. Apocalyptic," said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a hurricane relief group and flew to Abaco island. "It's not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again."

Nassau, about 90 miles south of Abaco, was largely untouched by the storm, but the city is bustling with relief workers from the World Health Organization and USAID, among others, as authorities begin restoring access to Abaco and Marsh Harbor. Helicopter charter companies are booked up for days, and regular ferry service has not yet launched. The Marsh Harbor airport remained closed Thursday because of damage.

The Red Cross expected a supply plane to land in Nassau, the staging area for many relief efforts.

"Getting relief to people in need is our No. 1 priority," Jenelle Eli of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement. "We are doing everything we can to get aid to hard-to-reach places in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. Damaged roads and telecommunications infrastructure present challenges, but Red Cross teams are working around the clock to respond to this devastating storm."

Sandra Cooke, co-founder of Restoration Abaco, which partnered with Project Hope in the Bahamas, warned of desperate measures as the lack of supplies turned critical, CBS News reported. "The looting has begun, and these people are armed," Cooke said. "They're going after homes that are still intact that have generators, maybe food. It's bad."

An 11-person team flew over some of the worst-affected parts of Abaco in a Coast Guard HC-144 plane. Their primary goal, the Hurricane Dorian Response Management Team said, is to assess damage as they define their relief response.

Total insured and uninsured property losses in the Bahamas, not including infrastructure and autos, could hit $7 billion, according to an estimate from the catastrophe modelers Karen Clark & Co., The Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Coast Guard, providing assistance with air operations based out of Andros, Bahamas, sent in multiple cutters and 17 shallow-water rescue boat teams.