[guest post by Dana]
In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian the death toll in the Bahamas currently stands at 43, but is expected to rise. There are also an estimated 70,000 people now homeless on Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands. Because of the magnitude of the disaster, and subsequent shortages of food, shelter, and fresh water, people on the islands are making every effort to leave as things are expected to get even worse:
Efforts are underway to move evacuees by the hundreds to safety, including on a cruise ship that arrived Saturday morning in Palm Beach, Florida.
Search and rescue personnel who arrived with cadaver dogs on the Abaco Islands brought body bags and coolers to store human remains, said Joy Jibrilu, director general of the country’s tourism and aviation ministry.
Workers also brought equipment to count the dead and to understand the scope of damage, Jibrilu said.
The smell of death lingered in the air in Marsh Harbour, CNN’s Gary Tuchman reported Friday, as he toured hard-hit areas there.
Tuchman accompanied U.S. Coast Guard and city of Miami paramedics as they conducted a grim search through rubble in Marsh Harbour Saturday. The crews found the body of a woman buried in the layers of rubble that now blanket the neighborhood.
Local firefighters told Tuchman they expect many more bodies will be found in the area.
Ravaged infrastructure has impeded search and recovery efforts, as the islands remain a mess of splintered buildings, torn-off roofs, snapped power poles and scattered vehicles.
However, residents fleeing the islands are facing complications when trying to enter the U.S. Earlier today, evacuees found themselves kicked off a ferry headed to Florida because their paperwork was allegedly not in order:
Crew members aboard the Balearia in Freeport, Grand Bahama, told 119 evacuees without valid US visas they would have to disembark because US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) warned “in a last-minute call” they would not be admitted to the US on arrival in Fort Lauderdale.
Under CBP rules, passengers lacking visas are legally admissible on humanitarian grounds as long as they also carry a police report confirming they have no criminal record. But those with such documentation were asked to get off the Balearia after the passenger manifest was submitted to the US federal agency on Sunday night, according to some of the crew, because they said the US would not accept them.
Others from the Bahamas have reportedly been allowed to travel to the U.S. with passports after undergoing a screening process that showed no proof of criminal record.
Customs and Border Protections attempted to clear up the confusion:
Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan told reporters Monday that the developments were the result of “confusion,” and said the Trump administration would look to process anyone seeking entry into the U.S. from the Bahamas for humanitarian reasons on an expedited basis.
“You can imagine any type of natural disaster like this where you have this huge disaster, a lot of resources going on and responding, there’s going to be some confusion,” Morgan told reporters at the White House.
“We are not working and telling a cruise line that you cannot allow anyone without documents. That’s just not being done.”
“We will accept anyone on humanitarian reasons that’s going to come here, we’re going to process them,” Morgan continued, though he stressed that individuals will not be granted entry if they are deemed inadmissible, including in cases of criminal records.
Morgan later stressed that there is not a “formal grant of temporary protected status for individuals in the Bahamas impacted by the hurricane,” but that those discussions need to happen.
The acting director of Customs and Border Patrol in Port Everglades, Florida, said that had the evacuees remained on the ferry and been allowed to disembark in Florida, CBP would have processed them:
Stephen Silvestri, the acting director for CBP at Port Everglades, told a reporter from Miami news station WSVN who was onboard the ferry: “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.”
“I think it was a business decision by Balearia to remove them. They were not ordered off the boat by any government entity.”
President Trump also weighed in on the issue today, noting that there were “dangerous” people on the islands that officials want to prevent from entering the U.S.:
“We have to be very careful. Everybody needs totally proper documentation. Because look, the Bahamas has some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas who weren’t supposed to be there,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn at the White House.
Trump went on to suggest that gang members or drug dealers could be among those seeking refuge in the U.S. after the devastation from Dorian.
“I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members, and some very, very bad drug dealers,” Trump continued.
The president claimed that “large sections” of the Bahamas were not hit by Dorian, and that the U.S. would seek to relocate Bahamians in need to those parts of the country.
Here is a link to organizations helping with recovery in the Bahamas. I haven’t vetted them myself, so do your homework if you’re interested in helping with monetary donations or non-perishable items.
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)