THOUSANDS STILL MISSING

Here’s an update on the Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. 

LANNIS WATERS/PALM BEACH POST/TNS
On Sept. 6, Bahamians waited in line in Freeport, Bahamas, trying to get aboard the Grand Celebration cruise ship headed to Florida.

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Rising toll, oil spill 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. 

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. 

Ocean fouled with oil

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 saltwater intrusion. 

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. 

Doing its job

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.” 

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. 

Water on the way 

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Power & Light on Tuesday announced plans to ship 19 truckloads of water – more than a half-million bottles, including 10 truckloads that had been stockpiled by the state for the ongoing hurricane season – to Nassau, where the Bahamian government is staging most of its relief efforts.

With more than 80 days remaining in the Atlantic hurricane season, now at its peak, DeSantis said the donation shouldn’t leave the state short in case any of three disturbances now being monitored by the National Hurricane Center pose an immediate threat to the state.   

“We’re not out of the woods with hurricane season, obviously we’re still monitoring,” DeSantis said during a news conference at FPL’s Command Center in West Palm Beach. “But we felt comfortable we can give some of the water – given the acute needs in the Bahamas – and then still be in the position to backfill if we’re unfortunate enough to get hit with a storm.” 

In advance of Dorian, Florida deployed 860,000 bottles of water and 1.8 million meals to counties that faced threats from the storm, and another 819,000 gallons of water were ready for distribution. Also, 730,000 pounds of ice were ready for distribution.

But Dorian skirted the state’s East Coast, sparing Florida communities – and millions of FPL customers – from a direct hit. 

More help coming

Still, DeSantis and Florida Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said the state likely will make other contributions along with donating the water.

“We are intimately involved in helping figure what are the unmet needs and where we can help,” Moskowitz said. 

Moskowitz noted that even the best hurricane building codes were not developed for Dorian, which hit parts of the Bahamas with 185 mph sustained winds. 

“This could have been us. And let’s be clear, it almost was us,” Moskowitz said. 

No TPS for Bahamians

President Donald Trump’s administration doesn’t plan at this time to invoke a special immigration status for Bahamians displaced by Hurricane Dorian who are already in the U.S, an official familiar with the matter said. 

The official, speaking Wednesday on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. continues to support the recovery effort with aid and services.

The revelation comes two days after the acting commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Mark Morgan, endorsed the idea of giving displaced Bahamians so-called temporary protected status (TPS) in the U.S. 

“I think that would be appropriate to have that circumstance, especially depending – I mean, history shows we’ve done that before,” Morgan said Monday during a White House briefing. “I’m sure that that would be the discussion we’ll be having.” 

‘Bad people’ 

Trump was asked on Monday whether he’d offer temporary protected status to the people of the Bahamas. He didn’t answer directly but pointed out that the U.S. is “recovering from the hurricane also.” Trump also said that “some very bad people” could enter the U.S. from the Bahamas, without citing evidence. 

The U.S. has been sending mixed signals all week on documentation requirements – and status – of Bahamians displaced by the hurricane who either already have come to the U.S., or who are trying to flee the devastated islands.

Trump said Monday that everyone needs “totally proper documentation.” Morgan had said earlier that same day that people whose lives are in jeopardy are “going to be allowed to come to the United States, right, whether you have travel documents or not.” 

Another storm coming? 

A tropical wave in the Southwestern Atlantic has highly increased chances of developing into an organized storm and possibly Tropical Storm Humberto over the weekend as it heads toward the Bahamas and Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center. 

The wave, over the Turks and Caicos, has a 40 percent chance of developing into a tropical depression as early as Friday over the Bahamas or South Florida. The NHC also forecast a 60 percent chance of the wave developing in the next five days. 

Should the system organize into a tropical depression it will be the ninth recorded depression of the year, and if it then grows to maintain at least 39 mph sustained winds, it would become Tropical Storm Humberto.

Rain, thunderstorms 

The system is expected to bring heavy rainfall and thunderstorms over the Bahamas Friday, the NHC reported. Tropical-storm-force wind gusts have been reported in some of the heavier squalls.

There two other systems with low chance of experiencing tropical maturity in the next two-to-five days, the NHC showed.

The first is located in the MidAtlantic, 650 miles east of the Lesser Antilles. This system is expected to move west and into unfavorable wind conditions giving it only a 10 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression in the next 48 hours and another 10 percent within the next five days. 

The second is located just off the Cabo Verde Islands and is quickly moving west. The NHC expects to see slow development over the weekend where it has a 30 percent chance of tropical development.

Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald; Joe Mario Pedersen of the Orlando Sentinel; Josh Wingrove of Bloomberg News; and Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida all contributed to this report.

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