At least 2,500 people registered as missing in the Bahamas; oil spill spreads

An aerial view of damage caused by Hurricane Dorian is seen on Grand Bahama Island on September 4, 2019 in Freeport, Bahamas. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/TNS) ***
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By Jacqueline Charles Miami Herald (TNS)

At least 2,500 people have been registered as missing in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, the Bahamas government said Wednesday, as it confirmed that oil from tanks damaged by the storm had spread along the coast of Grand Bahama.

The National Emergency Management Agency became aware of the oil spill as soon as it was able to fly over Grand Bahama and alerted the Norwegian company, Equinor, that owns and manages the facility, said spokesperson Carl Smith.

“They indicated that they are aware of it and they had already taken steps to mobilize a response to the spill,” said Smith, speaking at a news conference. “The company that owns the facility has a responsibility to respond and they are working in tandem to address the oil spill, they are not working cross purposes.”

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The oil spill first became apparent on Friday. Equinor’s oil facility is located on the shore of the eastern end of Grand Bahama, which was slammed by Dorian when the storm parked itself over the island with winds in excess of 165 miles per hour and life threatening rains.

Evan Cartwright, an architect with the Bahamas Ministry of Works, told the Miami Herald Friday that the oil from the facility had made its way into the area’s drinking water supply.

“Oil is everywhere,” he said. “In the ocean, drinking water.”

During the daily briefing Wednesday, officials said water supply remains limited. Desalination is posing a challenge. Samples of water have been sent off to labs to test for salt water intrusion.

Officials warned that Bahamians are still in the peak of hurricane season, and they should expect heavy rainfall and gusty winds through the weekend as a new system moves across the islands. The storm has a low chance of developing, officials said.

Smith said the 2,500 people on a government registry for the missing had not been checked against government records of people staying in shelters or evacuated. At least 5,500 people, Smith said, had been evacuated to Nassau, where officials were adding additional tents to accommodate evacuees. He said the list could decrease as they reunite family members and as individuals who evacuated from Abaco and Grand Bahama register with social services.

Greg Smith, a resident of Grand Bahama and the former president of the chamber of commerce, is among those trying to find the body of a relative. He lost an aunt in the storm when she lost her grip as they were passing one of her grandchildren to her on the roof of a house to escape the rising water.

Smith said he’s received images of bodies in body bags being brought into the local morgue.

“There has been quite a bit of bodies coming and going into the morgue,” he said on Friday. “I don’t know the amount. We don’t know what the death toll will ultimately be.”

Smith, the NEMA spokesperson, pushed back against criticism about a lack of government presence in Grand Bahama, where some people are complaining about aid not getting to survivors.

“There’s no such thing as the government or NEMA not having a presence on the ground,” he said.

He urged charities and NGOs who want to help evacuees to work directly with them, as “NEMA is focused on coordinating shelters and other support so Bahamians do not need to leave their home country. “

NEMA also noted that counseling was being provided to those searching for family members.

A representative from Bahamas Power and Light said the company anticipates restoring power to the southern part of Abaco in three weeks. The company has not completed assessment of the 15 affected cays, which could take months to restore.

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