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In The Bahamas, People On The Island Of Abaco Are Desperate For Food And Water


Hurricane Dorian made landfall today on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Now it's headed out to sea, having largely sideswiped the eastern U.S. coast. In the Bahamas, the scene is far more grim. Thirty people are confirmed dead. And as we keep noting, that number is sure to rise. I spoke earlier with NPR's Jason Beaubien on Great Abaco Island. And I want to note that some of his reporting is hard to hear.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: I'm at the dock in Marsh Harbour. I'm actually standing under the shell of what used to be a Customs building that's just torn apart. It's shattered concrete and, like, there's tin roofing all around us. And off to the side, there's hundreds of people who are trying to get onto a mail boat. It's a boat that carries more than just mail, but it does a regular run between here and Nassau. And these people are trying to get on there. The prime minister was just here a few minutes ago assuring them that they're going to be able to get on for free, that they will have some place to go once they get to Nassau. But there are all of these people here. They've been waiting out in the sun trying to get on this boat to get off the island.

KELLY: And you have been travelling around the island today. Give us a sense of how much of it you've been able to see. And what does it look like?

BEAUBIEN: So we've been spending most of the day in Marsh Harbour today, and it is obliterated. I mean, there are parts of neighborhoods that look more like piles of lumber than actual, you know, neighborhoods. Things are destroyed all across this town. This is a town about 17,000 people, relies on tourism. Yeah, things are just torn up everywhere you look; boats thrown into the streets. Things are bad.

KELLY: Jason, I referenced the death toll and that it may continue to rise. We have been reading and seeing reports that there are bodies just in the street. Have you seen any of that?

BEAUBIEN: Yes. Just walking around one neighborhood here this morning, we saw four bodies just out in the open. And in addition, there's really a smell in the air. Sometimes you're not seeing the bodies, but you're coming through rubble, and there's a very distinct smell of rotting human flesh. So we definitely believe that this death toll is going to rise significantly.

KELLY: It's an awful detail to hear. It speaks to the fact that services are just not functioning - that they're not able to collect these bodies, is that what's going on?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. And there's great frustration over that as well.

KELLY: So as you're talking to people, what are they telling you? How are they coping?

BEAUBIEN: People say that they are really getting desperate. People just want to get out. That seems to be the main thing. Both rich people want to get out, poor people want to get out. I was talking to this one woman who was trying to get on the mail boat right in front of me at the moment. Her name's Lanita Johnson (ph), and she's here with her three children. And she's saying that she just wants to get out of here. That is her top priority.

LANITA JOHNSON: Going on those speedboats, we can't carry our bags.

BEAUBIEN: And you'd be willing to get on the speedboat and leave your bag.

JOHNSON: I want to come off this rock. I don't have no other way. That's a free ride for me. I don't have no money buying clothes. And I have to get me and my children out of mildew. That will make us sick and then make it worse. If I stay there, then what? They get sick.

KELLY: What about people who can't travel? They're maybe too old or too young or too sick, not in good health. Are rescue operations still underway?

BEAUBIEN: Yes. Rescue operations are still underway. They are flying people out of the main airport, which is still officially closed to general aviation. But they are getting flights in there to evacuate people who are sick, elderly. So things are moving in the right direction. You know, we're getting boats in here. We're getting planes that are able to land at the main airport. But people's homes are destroyed. People don't have water or people don't have food to eat. The situation here is pretty dire.

KELLY: That is NPR's Jason Beaubien reporting there from the dock in Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas.

Jason, thanks so much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.