SAN JUAN – Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) commissioner Anthony Ferguson said Tuesday that search teams had still not combed through all the debris in certain parts of the Abaco Islands, leading authorities to conclude that the death toll from Hurricane Dorian could rise substantially.
The official death toll still stands at 52, Ferguson said in a press conference.
Over the weekend, officials raised the death toll from the powerful hurricane to 52 following the discovery of the body of a man in Marsh Harbour, a town in the Abaco Islands.
“We recognize that many persons are presumed missing and we anticipate the discovery of more deceased persons, as the process of search and recovery progresses,” Ferguson said.
The police commissioner said the vast amount of sand carried by the storm into different areas of the Abacos made it difficult for search teams to work.
“As there are many more persons presumed missing; since they have not been seen or heard from since the passage of Hurricane Dorian, we are appealing to family members to file missing person’s reports with the police,” Ferguson said.
Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) director Capt. Stephen Russell, for his part, said the government expected the death toll to rise.
Russell said searching the rubble left behind by the storm was the most difficult task for search teams.
The storm recovery operation could take months, the NEMA chief said.
Ferguson said additional officers were being sent to the Abacos amid concern about looting and the theft of property from houses.
“Please know that every effort is being made by (the) Royal Bahamas Police Force, along with our local and international law enforcement partners to bring relief and closure for everyone,” Ferguson said.
The police commissioner acknowledged that the situation was chaotic in Marsh Harbour following the storm, but he said measures had been taken to restore order.
Officials in Nassau said 274 RBPF officers and Royal Bahamas Defense Force personnel have been deployed in the Abaco Islands.
Arrests have been made on theft and other charges, Ferguson said.
US Agency for International Development (USAID) team leader Rob Jenkins said much work remained to be done in the recovery effort.
Hurricane Dorian made landfall on Sept. 1 on Elbow Cay, Bahamas, and later on Great Abaco as a Category 5 storm, the most powerful type of hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
The hurricane caused catastrophic damage in the Abacos and on Grand Bahama, home to the popular tourist destination of Freeport.
Thousands of people were evacuated from the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama to New Providence, the most populous island in the archipelago and where the capital of Nassau is located, following the storm.
The UN estimates that the homes of 70,000 people in the Bahamas were either completely destroyed or seriously damaged by Dorian.