World

Storm nears northern Bahamas, complicating Dorian relief

A storm system threatening the Bahamas with more heavy downpours and strong winds on Friday hampered the search for 1,300 people missing in the wake of the worst hurricane in the nation's history and a massive humanitarian operation to help survivors.

Islands still trying to recover from Category 5 hurricane

A toy fire engine sits in the rubble of a house destroyed by Hurricane Dorian in Gold Rock Creek, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, on Thursday. (Ramon Espinnosa/The Associated Press)

A storm system threatening the Bahamas with more heavy downpours and strong winds on Friday hampered the search for 1,300 people missing in the wake of the worst hurricane in the nation's history and a massive humanitarian operation to help survivors.

The unnamed system, which had the potential of becoming the ninth tropical storm of the year, could drop up to 15 centimetres of rain through Sunday in some areas of the islands inundated nearly two weeks ago by Hurricane Dorian, forecasters said.

Winds were expected to reach 48 km/h in the northern Bahamas, where the powerful and slow-moving Dorian flattened thousands of structures and left 70,000 people needing shelter, food and water and medical assistance.

The storm could frustrate relief efforts by delaying the movement of the "substantial amount" of food and water already on the ground, said Carl Smith, spokesperson for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) during a news conference.

"I hope it does not disrupt it. We have taken precautionary measures to address the potential impact that we may encounter," Smith said.

People whose homes were damaged or destroyed were advised to move to shelters due to the impending rains, he said.

Friday night, the storm was centred about 250 kilometres east-southeast of Great Abaco Island and moving northwest at 13 km/h. It had maximum sustained winds of 48 km/h, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an advisory.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for the northwestern Bahamas, excluding Andros Island and central Florida's eastern coast.

The storm was expected to dump five to 10 centimetres of rain on the islands, where the powerful and slow-moving Dorian had ripped roofs off thousands of dwellings and dumped up to 60 centimetres of rain. In some areas, the new storm could drop up to 15 centimetres of rain through Sunday, the NHC said, but no storm surge was expected.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for most of the northwestern Bahamas, including Great Abaco Island and Grand Bahama Island, the NHC said. Those islands were ravaged when Hurricane Dorian ripped through the archipelago as a Category 5 storm two weeks ago.

"Tropical storm force winds, heavy rain and high surf are expected" in the Bahamas, said Dennis Feltgen, the centres' spokesman. "Wet and windy, which is going to make the recovery over the northwest Bahamas that much more difficult."

The new storm could hamper relief efforts and people who have damaged roofs or buildings are advised to move to shelters due to the impending rains, Smith said.

The weather system will slow movement of the "substantial amount" of food and water already on the ground, he said.

"I hope it does not disrupt it. We have taken precautionary measures to address the potential impact that we may encounter," Smith said.

Pallets of aid and food are seen in the port of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas on Tuesday, one week after the hurricane. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the Canadian government said it might consider recalling its Canadian Armed Forces crew deployed for humanitarian relief if the impending storm worsens.

"The safety of our aircrew and aircraft is always a priority," said spokesperson Alexia Croizer.

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 298 km/h.

Search and rescue

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 arrived at the Bahamas Friday evening and is scheduled to speak Saturday with people affected by the hurricane and the humanitarian teams assisting them. He is also planned to meet with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis in Nassau.

"The financial cost of the damage caused by Dorian is not clear, but it will be in the billions of dollars. The Bahamas cannot be expected to foot this bill alone," Guterres said upon landing in the island nation's capital, according to a transcript of his prepared remarks.

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.

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