By Robin Gomes
More than 40 people have been reported killed in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian tore through the Caribbean island chain last week.
The devastating category-5 storm made landfall on 1 September on the northwest of the archipelago with wind gusts reaching up to 354 km/h and sea surges of 4 to 7 meters, becoming the strongest tropical cyclone on record. It remained stationary for 3 days over the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco, where it caused widespread damage.
Health Minister Duane Sands on Sunday told the Associated Press that 44 people have been killed so far. The toll is likely to rise as security forces and other teams search devastated areas.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis described it as “one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history.”
Archbishop Patrick Pinder of Nassau, the capital, appealed for help for the affected people, describing the tragedy as a “massive destruction on a scale we’ve never before seen in the history of our little nation.”
In a video message on the archdiocesan website, Archbishop Pinder said that many are rendered homeless and some 70,000 people have been hit.
Infrastructure, institutions and businesses have been severely damaged, and many lives have been lost and the death toll is likely to rise as more bodies are found.
The Bahamas, he noted, is in the hurricane zone, and people need to be prepared to be in a better position to respond when such disasters strike.
Immediate and long term response
The first response, he said, is to provide the very basic needs of the people, namely, food, water, shelter, clothing, etc. Archbishop Pinder said that his archdiocese is calling on its Catholic partners overseas to help provide some of the basic needs of the affected people. But the scale of the destruction left behind by Hurricane Dorian is so enormous that their rebuilding effort is going to take a very long time. Hence the immediate response of the Church is very important and the long term response is also going to be equally important.
Archbishop Pinder pointed out that it not only a question of providing material help. People also need spiritual, mental and psychological help, which, he said, the archdiocese needs to pay close attention to.
While flying from Rome to the Mozambican capital, Maputo, on 4 September, at the start of a 3-nation visit, Pope Francis urged for prayers for the victims of Hurricane Dorian. “Those poor people,” he said, “who from one day to the next have lost their homes, everything, even their lives.”
Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin has also sent a telegram of condolence on behalf of the Pope to Archbishop Patrick Pinder of Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, urging the international community to respond with “prompt and effective assistance”.
According to the United Nations, some 70,000 people are in need of food and shelter.
With drinking water resources contaminated, fears of diarrhoea and waterborne diseases loom large in the aftermath of the hurricane.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has launched an urgent appeal for $4 million to scale up its humanitarian response and address the most immediate needs of children and families across the Bahamas, including access to safe drinking water and sanitation, nutrition, psychosocial support and non-formal education activities.