The facts: Hurricane Dorian's devastating effect on the Bahamas

An aerial view of the damage from Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas

Hurricane Dorian is the strongest hurricane on record to have hit the Bahamas — and one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record.

The Sept. 2019 storm caused extensive flooding that damaged homes and infrastructure on the northwest islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, as well as widespread power outages.

The death toll in the Bahamas has risen to 53 people. It's expected to rise further — more than 1,000 people are missing. More than 2,000 people need lifesaving assistance.

The Bahamas is comprised of 700 islands sprinkled over 100,000 square miles of ocean. The archipelago is home to nearly 400,000 people. It could be days or even weeks before we know the full extent of the damage.

Our team is surveying the affected islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama and is distributing solar lanterns and clean water.

Learn more about Hurricane Dorian and find out how you can help people recover:

When did Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas?

Hurricane Dorian originated in the Atlantic Ocean in late August. It made landfall on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, at Elbow Cay, on the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas.

How powerful was Hurricane Dorian when it hit the Bahamas?

Hurricane Dorian was the strongest hurricane on record to hit the Bahamas. Once it made landfall, it hovered over the country — sometimes moving at just 1 mph — for more than 48 hours. All the while, it caused storm surges and wind damage, decimating parts of the archipelago.

What are the Bahamas like after Hurricane Dorian?

Here's footage our Hurricane #Dorian team took as they landed in Marsh Harbour this weekend. From @jillmorehead: "It was as bad as it looks. Many people have been evacuated from the area and brought to other islands, but the situations on Abaco and Grand Bahamas remain critical."

— Mercy Corps (@mercycorps) September 10, 2019

Hurricane Dorian devastated Abaco and Grand Bahama Islands, two locations where the eye of the storm made landfall. While normal commercial flights are slowing resuming, the main airport terminal on Grand Bahama is destroyed. Roads are littered with debris and downed trees, and there are limited supplies of fuel. Reaching the islands remains incredibly difficult, even for first responders and emergency personnel.

The death toll has risen to 53 people, with more expected in the coming days. More than 1,000 people are missing.

More than 2,000 people need lifesaving assistance.

Rubble and the foundation of a destroyed home in the bahamas
Hurricane Dorian destroyed many homes in High Rock in Grand Bahama. Photo: Marjie Sackett/Mercy Corps

The Abaco Islands are the most severely affected. An estimated 90 percent of housing and infrastructure is damaged or destroyed. The most impacted areas were primarily inhabited by vulnerable, undocumented migrant populations. In Grand Bahama, satellite data suggests that 76 to 100 percent of buildings in some areas have been destroyed.

Electricity is down in almost all of the island, and cell phone service coming back up but can be unreliable. Storm surge and flooding destroyed many people’s vehicles, making it difficult for them to come to central locations to receive supplies, and trucks or other vehicles to take goods to communities are also in short supply.

During the hurricane, the aquifer that feeds the more than 200 wells from which Grand Bahamians draw water was contaminated with salt water due to the high storm surge and extensive flooding. The Grand Bahama Port Authority has advised residents not to use tap water to drink, wash dishes, brush teeth or prepare food until restoration efforts to flush the aquifer of salt water are complete.

The week after Hurricane Dorian hit was scheduled to be the first week of school in the Bahamas. Many families affected by the hurricane had just paid school fees and purchased school uniforms, but have now lost them. While authorities in Freeport say that they have electrified all the schools they can, many have sustained too much damage to be safe for students, and outside the city, communities fared much worse.

What do people need most after a hurricane?

People learning to use a water filtration system
Mercy Corps team member Karla Peña, left, demonstrates a water filtration system in Puerto Rico. She is also responding to Hurricane Dorian. Photo: Angel Valentin for Mercy Corps
Mercy corps team member karla peña waits on the tarmac in nassau, bahamas
Mercy Corps team member Karla Peña waits on the tarmac in Nassau, Bahamas to board a helicopter to the Abaco Islands. Photo: Christy Delafield/Mercy Corps

We know from our response in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria that people will need electricity alternatives as companies work to restore power, especially in remote areas. They’ll also need access to temporary shelter, clean water and food.

The affected islands were completely inundated with sea water so safe, clean drinking water will be a critical priority.

"With so many groups and organizations on the ground, we have to be sure we're not overlapping efforts," says Karla Peña, Puerto Rico director and responder in the Bahamas.

"In Puerto Rico, we worked with local organizations who were able to take us to communities that had gotten no help at all yet, even long after the storm. That's what I'm focused on, talking with local Bahamian groups so we can get the deeper story on what is happening and where people are who are most in need. If you don't have anyone local in the conversation, you won't know who hasn't been reached."

As the impacts of climate change continue to compound, extreme storms like these will grow in intensity and frequency — and they will particularly affect communities that are already living in vulnerable situations. People in the Bahamas will need long-term support to recover from this hurricane and help them prepare for and build resilience to future storms.

How is Mercy Corps helping?

Our team is surveying the affected islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama and is distributing solar lanterns and clean water. We are committed to reaching 3,000 families with emergency kits which include: mosquito nets, tarps, jerry cans, chlorine tablets to purify water, and rope.

We purchased supplies that were locally available in Nassau for some of our initial deliveries, including jugs of water and other essentials.

We've joined forces with Mission Resolve Foundation to bring clean drinking water to residents and several medical facilities on Grand Bahama island through the installation of a water treatment plant.

The system consists of two reverse osmosis water purifiers that are currently generating around 7,500 gallons of potable water each day. After desalination and remineralization, the water is chlorinated before distribution to the public — according to standards set by the World Health Organization, Grand Bahama Port Authority and the local Department of Environmental Health Services — so it is safe to drink. Mercy Corps has begun delivering safe drinking water from the system to several health facilities and to individuals through a public tap stand at the Freeport YMCA.


“Providing communities with a reliable source of clean drinking water means they don’t need to purchase bottled water,” says Mugur Dumitrache, senior water and sanitation advisor for Mercy Corps. “It’s not just that we want to reduce plastic waste — which is significant when an entire island is reliant on bottled water — but bringing in and trucking bottled water takes up urgently-needed space on planes, ships and on the roads at a time when so many other supplies are needed.”

As we access the more hard-hit areas of the affected islands, our team is also distributing solar lanterns equipped with USB chargers so that people can charge essential devices, given the extensive electrical blackouts. Solar lanterns provide people with greater safety and security as they move about after dark. Having the ability to charge phones will enable people to reach out to emergency services, get notices from authorities, learn about distributions of emergency supplies and contact their loved ones.

We have distributed 100 solar lanterns so far, including 40 to a healthcare center in Marsh Harbor, 30 to a hospital in Freeport and, through a local organization called Hands for Hunger, 30 lanterns to the smaller affected island of Little Abaco. We have another 500 solar lanterns that we are bringing to the Bahamas.

So far, communities are telling us their most pressing needs are clean water, shelter, basic household items, and in some cases, evacuation to another island. Our team is meeting with emergency managers and other responding organizations to coordinate our response efforts and mobilize supplies.

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