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Update On Hurricane Dorian Recovery In The Bahamas


To the Bahamas now, where thousands of residents still have nowhere to go nearly a month after Hurricane Dorian wiped out much of Grand Bahama and Abaco islands. The Category 5 hurricane was the strongest the islands have ever seen, killing more than 50 people with more than 1,000 still unaccounted for. And while Grand Bahama and Abaco are mostly destroyed, other islands escaped relatively unscathed. Rachel Knowles is a reporter with The Nassau Guardian. She joins me now from the Bahamian capital. Thanks for being with us.

RACHEL KNOWLES: Hi, Melissa. Thank you.

BLOCK: And a lot of those people who left the badly hit areas have come there to Nassau. What are they telling you?

KNOWLES: A lot of people are in shelters - over 2,000. And the people who are in shelters tend to be people who don't have family on the island to stay with. The shelters are mostly people who are of Haitian descent - migrants - who worked in Abaco. And they are, for the most part, just unsure of their futures.

BLOCK: Have they talked about the conditions back home - what they saw, what they went through?

KNOWLES: Yeah, a lot of them. I spoke to a lot of shelter residents this week, actually. And pretty much every single one of them knows someone who they believe at least died in the storm, people who are unaccounted for - family members and friends.

BLOCK: And that's got to be so tough because the death toll has has barely budged, which means that there are just a lot of people who may never be found.

KNOWLES: Yeah. And that's been a big concern because a lot of people want to at least know that they will have their relatives' remains to bury or to have some sort of memorial. And they've not gotten over, but they've accepted that, you know, their loved ones have died. And their concern is, when do we get a body to bury?

BLOCK: Yeah. And what is the Bahamian government saying about that? Are they giving any answers?

KNOWLES: They're saying that they've only recovered 53 bodies as of Friday. And that's just the best that they can do. There's a lot of heavy debris in parts of Abaco. We did hear this week that one estimate is that there's 1.5 billion pounds of debris in Abaco that has to be cleaned up. And that could take tens of millions of dollars. So they're not too sure what they're going to find when that happens. But they're doing - they say that they're doing their best. And once they can identify the bodies, they will be handed over to family. But I don't think that everyone is going to get closure.

BLOCK: It sounds, based on your reporting, that there is a lot of anger among the people in the shelters, understandably so. What is the climate there?

KNOWLES: A lot of people are saying that they're not happy with the conditions. And nearly everyone is just concerned about what is going to happen in the longer term. They're in a shelter now, and they may be getting fed every day, and they have a place to sleep, but they are homeless and jobless. And they don't know what's next for them.

BLOCK: How different do you think the Bahamas are going to look, given the effects of this storm and how devastating it was in parts of the country?

KNOWLES: One of the, I guess, lucky things is that Nassau is by far the most - or New Providence is by far the most populated island. It is the economic center. So in a way, as a country, the Bahamas shouldn't look, as a whole, super different. But obviously, the northern Bahamas got totally devastated - Grand Bahama and Abaco. And Grand Bahama was an island that was already sort of suffering economically. Abaco was more of an island that was booming economically. And when you speak to people from Abaco, they, for the most part, feel pretty hopeful that they'll get back to where they were. But I don't think anyone knows how long it'll take.

BLOCK: That's Rachel Knowles, a reporter for The Nassau Guardian in the Bahamas. Rachel, thanks so much.

KNOWLES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.