Bahamas: 'We survived it'
Weary Bahamians expressed relief as preliminary reports indicated Hurricane Frances caused less damage than anticipated.
BY NANCY SAN MARTIN AND JACQUELINE CHARLES
NASSAU - As Hurricane Frances chugged along this island chain Saturday, boats broke away from their anchors and floated out to sea, while jet skis and tractor trailers doubled as rescue vehicles amid rising floodwaters. At least two deaths were reported.
The full extent of Frances' impact remained unknown Saturday as deteriorating weather, even after the eye of the storm had passed, forced Prime Minister Perry Christie to cancel a flight across the hardest hit of the chain of 700 islands to survey the damage.
Christie hopes to fly out early today, along with Bahamian and U.S. disaster officials, to gauge the amount of destruction left behind by Frances.
Some preliminary reports indicated far less damage than anticipated.
''Besides some infrastructure damage, downed utility poles and some road damage, overall we survived it fairly, fairly well,'' said Matt Maura, a public information officer for the National Emergency Management Agency. ``We are blessed to tell you the truth.''
But others expressed concern about unknown losses.
''We anticipate there will probably be hundreds of homes that have been affected,'' Health Minister Marcus Bethel told reporters.
Timothy Callagahan, who was leading the U.S. government's assessment team here, said he feared the damage in Grand Bahama, where Freeport is located, would be much greater than on the island of New Providence, where the capital city of Nassau is located.
Authorities today planned to send four disaster experts to the islands of San Salvador, Long Island, Mayaguana and Eleuthera -- believed to be the hardest hit of the islands. Abaco and Grand Bahama, also battered by Frances, will receive visits from assessment teams as soon as weather permits, officials said.
Residents and vacationers in the Bahamas seemed to heed advice from authorities even as they grew impatient with the unwelcome Frances. The biggest challenge was trying to persuade people to remain indoors as the weather turned calm over Freeport for several hours Saturday morning, creating a false sense of security.
''Some persons felt it was over because it was calm, but we were in the eye of the storm,'' said Donald Glass, director of public relations at the 900-room Crown Plaza resort in Freeport, which was packed with guests.
Various neighborhoods and the Freeport International Airport were submerged from storm surges as high as 14 feet. Jet skis and tractor trailers were used in evacuations.
At least two deaths were reported and a third man remained missing after his wooden home collapsed.
One man on the western end of Grand Bahama Island apparently drowned in three feet of water as he presumably tried to swim to safety from his flooded yard. A second man was electrocuted as the storm raged through Nassau on Friday. Authorities feared a third death of an elderly man whose wooden house collapsed near the western tip of Grand Bahama. Rescue teams had not located the man as of Saturday evening.
Minor injuries also were reported in Abaco when the roof of a clinic collapsed Saturday morning. Several people were injured and expected to be flown to a hospital in Nassau today.
New Providence seemed to have been spared by Hurricane Frances' full wrath, but the powerful Category 3 storm did leave Bahamians some reminders of its destructive power: beach erosion, broken tree limbs, power outages, flooded front yards and submerged streets.
In Grand Bahama, 1,200 of the more than 100,000 residents went into shelters, forcing authorities and volunteers to rescue people living along canals and low-lying areas during the storm's strong winds and rising floodwaters. In the Howksbill neighborhood, about 500 people had to be evacuated.