NASSAU (Reuters) – 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.
FILE PHOTO: A volunteer of the NGO World Central Kitchen gestures as a helicopter leaves after delivering food for distribution, after Hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Marco Bello
The unnamed system, which had the potential of becoming a tropical storm, could drop up to 6 inches 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 30 mph (48 km) 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, spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency 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.
By midday on Friday, the tropical disturbance was 280 miles (450 km) east-southeast of Freeport on Grand Bahama Island, traveling at 1 mile per hour northwest, the NHC said.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for most of the Northwestern Bahamas, including Great Abaco Island and Grand Bahama Island, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Those islands were ravaged when Dorian ripped through the archipelago as a Category 5 storm.
“Tropical storm force winds, heavy rain and high surf are expected” in the Bahamas, said Dennis Feltgen, the center’s spokesman. “Wet and windy, which is going to make the recovery over the northwest Bahamas that much more difficult.”
World Central Kitchen, a charity that has served some 200,000 prepared meals in the Bahamas since Dorian hit, said it was sending ingredients to Abaco ahead of the storm in case helicopters were unable to deliver ready-cooked food into the affected areas on Friday and Saturday.
“Big storm is coming and we maybe can’t fly,” celebrity chef Jose Andres, who founded the organization in 2010, wrote in an Instagram post earlier this week.
The Canadian government said it might consider recalling its Canadian Armed Forces crew deployed for humanitarian relief if the impending storm worsened.
“The safety of our aircrew and aircraft is always a priority,” said spokeswoman Alexia Croizer.
The storm is expected to pick up speed as it moves northwest on Friday and could reach Florida on Saturday, it said.
In Florida, a tropical storm watch was in effect for portions of the east-central coast. 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. It was one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record to hit land, packing top sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (298 kph).
With 1,300 people still missing, according to the Bahamian government, relief services are focusing on search and rescue as well as providing food, water and shelter.
“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.
Despite the storm, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will visit the Bahamas on Friday and Saturday to speak with people affected by the hurricane and the humanitarian teams assisting them. He planned to meet with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis in Nassau.
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.
Reporting by Zach Fagenson in Nassau; additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Gabriella Borter in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Jason Neely and David Gregorio