As It Happens

Dorian left 'apocalyptic devastation' in its wake, says Bahamas health minister

Days after the hurricane, the Bahamas Minister of Health says the aftermath is almost indescribable and he is bracing for the death toll to rise dramatically as the bodies of missing people are found.

'We need help,' says Dr. Duane Sands says after hurricane leaves 70,000 people homeless

In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, the Bahamas minister of health., is bracing for a 'significantly higher' death toll as the bodies of missing people are found. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

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It's been more than a week since Dorian left the Bahamas, but the scale of the destruction from the hurricane is still being revealed.

More than 70,000 people were left homeless, many without basic supplies, according to the United Nations World Food Program's estimate.

Officials say at least 50 people are confirmed dead and 2,500 people have been registered as missing.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to the Bahamas Health Minister Duane Sands about the aftermath of the storm and how people are trying to cope as they begin to process the extent of the disaster. Here is part of their conversation.

Dr. Sands, I know you have been able to get into some of the hardest hit areas of the islands. Can you describe a bit of what you've seen?

I don't think words could capture the apocalyptic devastation.

It's almost surreal to see structures that you knew once existed that are just gone, in some instances, or reduced to just splinters, concrete, steel, wood, in places that previously had buildings.

It is just unbelievable.

Dr. Duane Sands says words fail to capture the 'apocalyptic devastation' left by the hurricane. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

And what are the people facing with whom you met?

They range from some being totally unscathed, to some who have lost everything. And in some of those instances, they are basically more focused on basic needs like food, water and shelter.

The Bahamas has historically dealt with weather systems like hurricanes every year. Storms on a regular basis. We thought we were experts on this thing. But nobody, certainly nobody alive, has ever experienced anything like this.

You have people who are in Nassau, homeless people, who looking for accommodations. What are people up against?

After the storm passed, the devastation and the damage not only took out homes and businesses, but it also destroyed roads and harbours and airports. Many of the vehicles on the ground were destroyed.

So in Grand Bahama, which is 100 miles long, and the population is 50,000, we have one functioning ambulance in the entire island. One functioning ambulance.

So meeting the need requires that you now have to drop in earth movers, automobiles, trucks to get to people.

And then, you have gaping holes that are impossible in the road, where the road has been washed into the ocean. There are many areas you can only access by helicopter.

Then you have bodies and you have to go door-to-door in each island, methodically, deliberately making sure that you don't miss a home, until you can retrieve from the rubble, underneath concrete, steel, wood, in flooded areas, these bodies.

I hope that gives you an understanding, because when people say, "Oh, it's taken a long time to get to people," very few people on the face of the Earth have ever experienced a hurricane at 200 miles an hour, sustained over an area for two days.

At least 70,000 people are now homeless and many are struggling to access basic supplies. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

Many people are wondering what's happened to those that are missing. The official death toll is at this point 50 people. Are you expecting it to be much higher than that?

We do we believe that the death toll will be considerably higher. And yet, you cannot count bodies that you do not have.

Some of these bodies have probably been washed out to sea because we had a sea surge of 20-plus feet.

And so you literally have the ocean come in [and] people are swept away. The ocean recedes and it takes with it property, persons, animals, etcetera. 

Some of them have been retrieved. Some of them we're still searching for.

But we know from reliable reports from family members that there is likely to be a significantly large number of persons who are now listed as missing who are probably dead.

There's another post-[disaster] problem that often happens when there is such devastation, and that's that there are those who would actually take advantage of the state and engage in looting and robbing people. What do you say to those people?

I say that looting is a pretty strong word.

If you have somebody who has suffered through a storm raging at 180 to 200 miles an hour for two days, cut off from civilization, with nothing to eat nothing to drink, and they have to survive and they stumble on a building where there could be food or water — what should they do? 

Yes, I admit that there have been opportunists who have violently seized goods, stolen goods. But I believe that to be in the minority.

People board a cargo ship for evacuation to Nassau at Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

You know that countries are wanting to help, Canada among them. What do you need from us?

We need goods. We need clothes. We need food. We need water.

But most of all, we hope that we can get assistance to rebuild and to once again regain our independence — meaning that we need help to get up off the ground, to get on our feet again, to recover.

We recognize that this event lays bare the lie that climate change is not real. And so, certainly for small island developing state, this type of weather event, which was unprecedented, certainly gives more power to the view that we have to, around the world, be environmentally conscious and look at what we're doing to our environment.

Written by Chris Harbord and John McGill. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


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