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“Staggering” Death Toll Feared in Bahamas as Thousands Remain Missing After Hurricane Dorian

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As Hurricane Dorian lashes North Carolina and continues its path north, the death toll in the Bahamas has risen to 30 people. The actual number is expected to be far higher, with hundreds, if not thousands, still missing in the island nation. We speak to Susan Mangicaro, senior adviser for emergency response at the International Medical Corps, about ongoing rescue efforts in the Bahamas.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As Hurricane Dorian lashes North Carolina and continues its path north, the death toll in the Bahamas has risen to 30 people but expected to soar. The actual number could be far higher, with hundreds, if not thousands, still missing. The island nation’s Health Minister Duane Sands said the number of dead, quote, “could be staggering.” Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm over the weekend, lingering for days and leaving nearly unimaginable destruction in its path. The airport on Grand Bahama Island has been completely decimated. Entire neighborhoods have been razed. Hundreds remain missing. This is hurricane survivor Ramond King describing the widespread devastation he witnessed on Abaco Islands, the worst-hit area in the Bahamas.

RAMOND KING: My island of Abaco is finished. Everything is gone. No banks, no stores, no nothing. It will take at least four to five years to complete only Marsh Harbour. I don’t know how long it will take for the rest of the island, but nothing is here, nothing at all. Everything is gone, just bodies.

AMY GOODMAN: A massive search-and-rescue mission is currently underway on the islands hit hardest by the storm, one of the most powerful to ever hit the Atlantic. Hurricane Dorian is now just off the North Carolina coast, where heavy rains and flooding have left more than 100,000 without power. By this morning, Dorian had been downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane but still threatens coastal residents with storm surges.

For more, we go to the Bahamas, where we’re joined by Susan Mangicaro, the senior adviser for emergency response at the International Medical Corps, a nonprofit group of volunteer doctors who deliver emergency health and other services.

Susan Mangicaro, welcome to Democracy Now! You’re on Nassau right now, not one of the hardest-hit islands. But explain what is happening in the Bahamas at this point. Number dead 30, though the number is expected to soar, with hundreds to thousands missing.

SUSAN MANGICARO: Sure. Thank you for having me. And we’re here on Nassau, and we arrived yesterday along with multiple other emergency medical teams. And we’re here to provide help for the government of Bahamas in life-saving, basically, health and medical intervention. So, we have a five-person assessment team right now, and we’re working under the direction of the government of Bahamas kind of in coordination with other local and international humanitarian groups to determine where the greatest gaps are and where the greatest needs are.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what do you understand, as you arrived in the Bahamas, of the extent of the damage?

SUSAN MANGICARO: It’s been devastating for the islands. You know, initially during a disaster such as one of this nature, it is chaotic, as you can imagine. Their first goal is to get out there and determine what the situation is. So, with the islands, some of them being wiped out completely or nearly, it’s been difficult for search-and-rescue teams to get out there. It’s been difficult to get out and do the assessments and determine what the situation is in every island. In the meantime, at the same time, you have multiple emergency medical teams on the ground here getting ready to go to wherever we’re needed. And so, right now the assessments are happening. Search and rescue is continuing. They’re trying to — it’s been challenging, extremely challenging, to get to some of the islands, with the loss of the airports, the waterways, and the challenges that are faced to getting there. So, right now we’re in that phase of getting everything here ready to go, so that we can mobilize as soon as we’re given direction from the government.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re working with specialists in waterborne diseases. Can you explain what is happening around that, what you are most fearful of and what you are trying to deal with?

SUSAN MANGICARO: Sure. After the initial kind of crisis and the trauma care, then, in an incident such as we have here with lots of standing water, with the heat and humidity, it is not uncommon at all to, very shortly thereafter, see waterborne illnesses. As a result, what we’re doing as a medical — emergency medical team is to be sure that we have the supplies that are necessary to treat those illnesses, once that does occur or if it does occur, things like having proper oral hydration, IV solutions, medications, antibiotics — all the medicines that are needed in order to take care if a waterborne illness should erupt.

AMY GOODMAN: And if people are looking for help, where do they go?

SUSAN MANGICARO: Yeah, this is a tough one. On each island, the government is trying to coordinate search and rescue and sites for the locals to go to. We’re also going to, very shortly, be deployed to one of the greatest-impacted areas. So, they will be instructed in word of mouth, as well as people on feet go house to house for search and rescue, and provide the information where medical care will be available, such as when we set up a clinic and other emergency medical teams do, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you have the physical and then the terrible emotional trauma even for survivors. How do first responders deal with this disaster? How do you make people feel safe?

SUSAN MANGICARO: Sure. We’re trained in this. This is what we do. We provide emergency medical care across the globe, so we have training ourselves on how to handle the crisis, the mental health and psychosocial health issue. That’s one of our strengths. We actually will bring on board a mental health, a psychosocial expert, so they can help not only deal with the folks that are suffering, all of the victims of this horrible disaster, but the staff, as well. So, that’s how we’re dealing with it, and most others.

AMY GOODMAN: Any last words you want to share as you go out to help people? How many other groups are on the ground? Are other governments helping? What is the United States government doing? And what is the Bahamian government, so under siege right now, saying they need, especially with the airports? I mean, you’ve got the airport in Grand Bahama that was completely destroyed. You’ve got another airport underwater.

SUSAN MANGICARO: Yeah, it is a challenge. So, the Bahamian government is asking that we work through them in a coordinated effort. The last thing that’s needed is when you have multiple people showing up, is utilizing resources that are already constrained. So that’s first and foremost. Secondarily, the U.S. government, I’ve seen search-and-rescue teams from Virginia, from California on the ground, multiple emergency medical teams, such as our organization and several others, on the ground, so coordinating those efforts and being sure that we’re going to the most impacted area, taking care of the most vulnerable, and preventing further kind of loss of life and suffering.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much, Susan Mangicaro, senior adviser for emergency response at the International Medical Corps, the nonprofit group of volunteer doctors and nurses who deliver emergency healthcare and other services, joining us from Nassau in the Bahamas.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we speak with a Bahamian about the crisis today and what needs — the most help that Bahamians need at this point. She actually is in Miami. Stay with us.

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