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Old 09-07-2019, 05:41 PM
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Default ‘We need help, right now’: Rescuers race to the Bahamas

‘We need help, right now’: Rescuers race to the Bahamas

09-07-2019 03:01 AM

With time running out to save stranded survivors of Hurricane Dorian, Bahamian and U.S. rescue crews combed through rubble in the hardest-hit areas Friday and braced for the death toll to rise.

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Old 09-09-2019, 09:10 AM
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Arrow U.S. official surveys hurricane damage in Bahamas as survivors flee to cities

U.S. official surveys hurricane damage in Bahamas as survivors flee to cities
By: Carol Morello - Washington Post - 9-8-19

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas — The U.S. humanitarian response on islands devastated by Hurricane Dorian has shifted into a new phase as desperate survivors flee the worst-hit areas of the Bahamas for towns and cities that were largely spared.

Although some remain behind, many residents of the storm-battered Abaco Islands have left for Nassau, Freeport and other areas where more assistance is available. Shelters are overflowing, and local officials have reported a surge in looting. Tens of thousands of people are believed to be homeless or in need of help.

Mark Green, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), took an aerial tour Sunday of the disaster zones, flying in a U.S. Navy Sea Stallion over flattened forests and communities reduced to rubble.

“Some places it’s like nothing happened,” he said. “Other places, it’s like they were hit by a nuclear bomb.”

The death toll remained at 44 on Sunday, but the government has warned that the number will be significantly higher when the extent of the damage becomes clearer.

The United States has provided $2.8 million in aid for the Bahamas, about a third for food and the rest for shelter, hygiene kits and other commodities, and for coordinating relief efforts. So far, 47 metric tons of supplies donated by the United States have arrived in the Bahamas, about the equivalent in size to two shipping containers. Officials said it is enough to help 44,000 people.

Much more will be needed. The immensity of the task was written on Green’s face as he stood at the open window of the helicopter, his pant legs flapping loudly in the wind several hundred feet above the Abaco Islands, where Dorian raced angrily across at 180 mph.

Acre upon acre of uprooted trees were strewn like matchsticks. Fields were flooded with stagnant water covered with green scum. Domes were blown off huge oil storage bins, exposing the slimy black liquid that remained. Rooftops were peeled away, and some houses were no more than piles of wood and other debris that no one has figured how to remove.

“We are here to help,” he told reporters at the end of his day-long trip, quickly adding, “The response will not affect the ongoing response for residents of the United States affected by Dorian.”

In meetings with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis and with charity experts in emergency relief, Green repeatedly offered assurances that the United States — from the highest levels of the administration on down — is committed to helping the island nation off the coast of Florida.

USAID has brought in Tim Callaghan to manage the U.S. relief effort in the Bahamas. Callaghan has worked for USAID for two decades and tackled some of the most difficult humanitarian challenges, including finding survivors after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and stemming the outbreak of Ebola in Africa. Callaghan had been working in Bolivia on the effects of the fire consuming the Amazon.

Callaghan said he has rarely seen damage as severe as in the Bahamas, where Dorian made landfall last weekend as a Category 5 storm, then stalled over the Abaco Islands.

“It stood there doing this,” he said, pounding his fist into his open hand three times.

About 80 Americans involved in humanitarian aid have been on the ground since Friday. Most of them operate from a rudimentary base at what remains of a private airport on the islands.

The most pressing task is being done by 57 search-and-rescue specialists from Fairfax County who, along with a similar team from Los Angeles, regularly work for USAID following disasters around the world. They have waded through marshes in 100-degree heat, slogging on foot through pockets of mud, debris and garbage left when the high water receded. They start at sunrise and work until sundown.

Their progress is difficult to measure, in large part because their communications are severely limited.

A group called Télécoms Sans Frontières has come to help, but for now aid workers can report how they day went only after they return to the operating base.

The challenges remain mammoth. Formerly navigable channels for boats to get through were moved by the storm and have to be reopened. When flat-bottom barges get through with supplies, they are filled with survivors lining up to evacuate. The Nassau airport is overflowing with people seeking to get to the United States. Some nongovernmental groups are making plans to keep working in the Bahamas for a year or longer.

Green paid tribute to a small group of USAID workers who accompanied him to a meeting with international relief groups that have come to the Bahamas to help meet medical, food and basic survival needs.

He posed for a photograph with them, dressed like them in the unofficial but ubiquitous uniform of tan chinos and light blue polo shirts emblazoned with the slogan “USAID From the American People.”

“You are the face of American compassion,” he told them, “and we really, really appreciate it.”

About this writer: Carol Morello is the diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post, covering the State Department. She previously wrote about demographics and the census. She has worked at The Post since 2000. Before that, she was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and USA Today.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Old 09-09-2019, 09:15 AM
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Exclamation ‘I’m watching my daughter cry’: Bahamas hurricane survivors are kicked off ferry over

‘I’m watching my daughter cry’: Bahamas hurricane survivors are kicked off ferry over U.S. visa demands
By: Katie Shepherd -Washington Post - 9-9-19

Hundreds of Hurricane Dorian survivors crowded into a ferry anchored in Freeport, Bahamas, on Sunday evening, after days on the sweltering islands with limited food, water and power. Just 2½ hours across the ocean, safety and relief waited in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Then, an announcement blared from the boat’s intercom speakers.

“Please, all passengers that don’t have a U.S. visa, please proceed to disembark,” a crew member said in a video captured on board.

Since Dorian devastated the islands earlier this month, killing at least 44 people, hundreds of Bahamian refugees have reportedly come to the United States after going through a screening process with only a passport and proof of no criminal record. The more than 100 refugees forced to disembark Sunday night were baffled about why they were turned away.

“At the last minute like this, it’s kind of disappointing,” Renard Oliver, who held his infant daughter, told Brian Entin, a reporter for Miami TV station WSVN. “It’s hurtful because I’m watching my daughter cry, but it is what it is.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, however, says no rules have changed and laid the blame on the ferry operator, identified by local reporters as Balearia Caribbean, for not properly coordinating with government officials. Balearia Caribbean did not immediately return a request for comment.

“CBP was notified of a vessel preparing to embark an unknown number of passengers in Freeport and requested that the operator of the vessel coordinate with U.S. and Bahamian government officials in Nassau before departing The Bahamas,” the agency said in a statement shared with The Washington Post late on Sunday.

A CBP official in Florida told WSVN that it was a “business decision” by Balearia to remove the refugees without visas.

“If those folks did stay on the boat and arrived, we would have processed them, vetted them and worked within our laws and protocols and done what we had to do to facilitate them,” a CBP spokesman said. “They were not ordered off the boat by any U.S. government entity.”

On Saturday, nearly 1,500 refugees traveled to the United States on another cruise ship, reportedly without requiring visas. Entin reported that crew members on the Sunday ferry were told that the same rules were in effect before being rebuffed by CBP.

The refugees’ plight comes after bipartisan calls to waive all visa requirements for Bahamas survivors. On Wednesday, Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Sen. Rick Scott (R) of Florida wrote an open letter to President Trump urging him to allow in refugees with relatives in the United States. Eighteen other Florida lawmakers made a similar appeal.

“Incoming images and media reports indicate that thousands of homes have been destroyed and the basic infrastructure of many communities simply no longer exists,” the senators wrote. “Perhaps one of the most basic yet meaningful steps our government can take immediately is to ensure that those who have lost everything, including family members in some instances, are provided the opportunity for shelter and reunification with family in the United States.”

On Monday, Scott urged CBP officials and the Bahamian government to clarify the current visa rules.

“As hundreds of thousands of Bahamians seek refuge or start to rebuild after Hurricane Dorian, we cannot have the kind of confusion that occurred last night in Freeport,” Scott said in a statement. Scott noted that he and Rubio “continue to urge President Trump to waive some visa requirements for those in the Bahamas that have family in the United States. But until that happens, there needs to be clarity on the current rules.”

Scott also encouraged CBP “to work with the Bahamian government to set up a temporary site at their ports of entry. Professionals should be on site to help the many Bahamians trying to leave destruction.”

Just hours before the confusion on Sunday’s ferry, CBP’s acting commissioner emphasized that U.S. authorities would be expecting “proper documentation” from those fleeing the hurricane’s destruction.

“Those evacuating from the Bahamas who are U.S. citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, and those with proper documentation to enter the U.S. are being processed at U.S. Ports of Entry,” CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan wrote on Twitter. “No visa document requirements have changed.”

Thousands have fled the islands after Dorian tore away roofs, flooded entire neighborhoods and left tens of thousands of people homeless. Most have gone to Florida, which has close historical ties to the Bahamas.

But many survivors seeking respite in Freeport on Sunday did not find it. Hundreds struggled to buy tickets on ferries and flights. Eventually, workers at the Freeport Harbour locked the terminal doors after all of the seats on the Sunday evening ferry had been sold. Many people continued to wait outside.

People waited in line for hours to buy tickets and board the evening Balearia Caribbean ferry. Their homes had been flooded, power cut off, water contaminated. The boat to Fort Lauderdale promised to carry them to family members and friends waiting to provide support.

But after the announcement demanding visas, a long line of refugees slowly filed off the boat.

“This is terrible,” one woman who stayed on the ferry told WSVN as the ferry left the harbor.

Under existing U.S. policy, Bahamians can bypass the visa process by providing a passport and proof of no criminal record and going through a pre-screening conducted by CBP in Freeport and Nassau. On Saturday, a cruise ship called the Grand Celebration took nearly 1,500 refugees to Palm Beach, Fla., without requiring passengers to show U.S. visas, according to media reports.

As anger and confusion mounted Sunday, CBP cited the Grand Celebration’s arrival as proof that the United States isn’t blocking refugees from the island.

“CBP continues to process the arrivals of passengers evacuating from the Bahamas according to established policy and procedures — as demonstrated by the nearly 1,500 Hurricane Dorian survivors who arrived at the Port of Palm Beach, Fla., aboard a cruise ship on Saturday and were processed without incident,” a CBP spokesman said in a statement.

In that statement, CBP emphasized that Grand Celebration worked with officials in both nations before the voyage.

“The Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line coordinated their evacuation mission with U.S. and Bahamian government officials before departing The Bahamas, and coordinated with CBP prior to the arrival of the C/S Grand Celebration,” the federal agency said. “All of the evacuees possessed valid travel documents.”

CBP said Sunday that the U.S. Embassy in Nassau is open for emergency visa appointments. The agency also requested that all refugees present themselves at a U.S. port of entry so that their admission can be reported to Bahamian authorities searching for missing residents in Abaco and Grand Bahama.

In the Bahamas, tens of thousands are still without homes, electricity or clean water. Mark Green, the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, told The Post that it looked as though the islands had been “hit by a nuclear bomb.” Bahamian officials warned that the death toll on the islands is likely to rise significantly as authorities continue to survey the destruction.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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