Information trickled out of Bahamas during much of Tuesday as families tried to track down loved ones and videos surfaced showing parts of the island chain washed away by storm surge from when Category 5 Hurricane Dorian struck then stalled.
Vernon Malone in Hope Town would often post whimsical handwritten notes for customers at his bakery.
“Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia. — Charles Schultz,” read one such note in a photo taken by a frequent visitor to Elbow Cay in the Bahamas — Orlando resident Nancy Maass Kinnally.
“Vernon’s house washed away,” Kinnally said after hearing of the widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian throughout the northern Bahamas. “His world came to an end today.”
Vernon survived, holed up in the bakery with his wife.
“He baked the most amazing pies and breads fresh every day and all day,” said Kinnally, a Palm Beach County native and public relations strategist who owns Relatable Communications Group.
And so it went on Tuesday as horrific news trickled out of the isolated Bahamas where cell service seemed spotty at best and even emergency communications were faltering.
Relatives turned to social media for any bit of information on the whereabouts of loved ones and South Floridians with property and ties to the Bahamas sought information on how landmarks and homes fared.
Grassroots relief efforts sprouted from surf shops, resorts, charter fishing operations and philanthropists — all a testament to the deep ties of South Florida to its neighbor just 90 miles to the east.
Photos from the U.S. Coast Guard showed how Hurricane Dorian turned the postcard-ready idyllic Bahamas into an apocalyptic wasteland with wind gusts as high as 220 mph and a deadly storm surge. The tempest finally moved on Tuesday after sitting over the archipelago for two days.
Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said more than 13,000 houses, or about 45 percent of the homes in Grand Bahama and Abaco, were believed to have been severely damaged or destroyed. U.N. officials said more than 60,000 people on the hard-hit islands will need food, and the Red Cross said some 62,000 will need clean drinking water.
“It looks like a bomb went off,” said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a local hurricane relief organization and flew over hard-hit Abaco Island. “It’s not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again.”
She told The Associated Press that her representative on Abaco told her that “there’s a lot more dead” and that the bodies were being gathered up.
The official death toll late afternoon Tuesday remained at five.
Another disturbing photo surfaced on the news site Bahamas Press reportedly of a body loaded up on a flatbed truck with reports that the dead were being collected on Great Abaco.
“We will confirm what the real situation is on the ground,” Health Minister Duane Sands said.
“We are hoping and praying that the loss of life is limited.”
Lists of the missing were compiled on Abaco Family Connect #HurricaneDorian on Facebook and on the website dorianpeoplesearch.com
There were about 2,000 entries on the website: Kevin Morris, Grand Bahama; Candi Stubbs, Murphy Town; Derrick Bailey, Marsh Harbour; Chloe Albury, Moore’s Island. And on and on.
There was some good news found on the Facebook group Abaco Family Connect. Dawn Pinder was discovered in Hope Town. “Her neck is broken, but she is not paralyzed. No surgery needed. With her right now.”
But there were a lot of posts, such as this one: “Sherez Cooper is trapped in a basement. Great Cistern. 26 degrees 34 north 77 degrees 6.51 west. There are three other persons there. One with a fractured leg. SOS.”
Sands said that Dorian rendered the main hospital on Grand Bahama unusable, while the hospital in Marsh Harbor in the Abacos Islands was in need of food, water, medicine and surgical supplies. He said crews were trying to airlift five to seven kidney failure patients from Great Abaco who had not received dialysis since Friday.
The Grand Bahama airport remained under 6 feet of water.
A video posted from Great Abaco by Bahamas Sport Fishing Network showed cars piled up on one another, remnants of houses sticking out from the muck and just a palm tree or two that survived the storm.
Bahamian officials received a “tremendous” number of calls from people in flooded homes. Desperate callers trying to find loved ones left messages with local radio stations.
One station said it got reports of a 5-month-old baby stranded on a roof and a woman with six grandchildren who cut a hole in a roof to escape rising floodwaters. At least two storm shelters flooded.
The U.S. Coast Guard airlifted at least 21 people injured on Great Abaco. Rescuers also used jet skis to reach some people as choppy, coffee-colored floodwaters reached roofs and the tops of palm trees.
Most of those efforts, though, were directed at the bigger islands of Grand Bahama and Great Abaco.
“There is so much debris in the water that what needs to happen is extraction of people, getting the babies, getting the elderly, getting the injured off of islands like Elbow Cay, Green Turtle Cay and Man-o-War Cay,” said Matt Winslow of Rochester, N.Y., who owns property on Elbow Cay.
“They need medical supplies. They only have 48 hours of fuel left. And communications are very sparse. Not only with the outside world but two groups on the island said their VHF radios aren’t working.”
Winslow set up a GoFundMe page for donations and had already raised $246,000 by mid-afternoon Tuesday. He urged people to donate cash because getting items to the Bahamas in the next few days by small sea crafts could be next to impossible.
“There is deep love for the Bahamians and the love for Bahamian people in Florida and all the way up the East Coast,” Winslow said.
Elizabeth Ackerly, an Ocean Ridge resident who has a home in Little Harbour said she heard there was actually very little damage to her property. That is because she was on the side of the hurricane eye that pushed the water away from her property. Those on the other side of the island saw their homes wash away, she said.
“There is a lot of Floridians that live in the Bahamas and a lot Bahamians who have homes here,” she said. “There is a big connection.”
Kinnally said when she was growing up in Palm Beach County it was a family tradition to go to the Bahamas yearly.
“For us it’s a place where we made tons of really happy memories, some of our happiest memories,” she said. “But it’s not our home. It’s not our economy. It’s not our livelihood. It’s more than just individuals who lost their homes. It’s the economy. It’s going to take a long time to get back the economy they had.”
Along with the heartbreak and melancholy, there was anger.
David and Patt Copperthwaite of St. Augustine were still awaiting word from their son, who went to Grand Bahamas Island to secure their home.
David Copperthwaite said the island is bisected by Hawksbill Creek, which naturally drained the water, but that relief valve has been slowly but surely impeded by industry over decades despite residents’ concerns.
“Dangers, they were ignored, and this storm brought it to a head where they have now destroyed parts of the community and maybe even taken lives,” he said.
The Associated Press and Post researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this story.
This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.