Relief officials reported scenes of utter ruin Tuesday in parts of the Bahamas and rushed to deal with an unfolding humanitarian crisis in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, the most powerful storm on record ever to hit the islands.
At least seven deaths were reported, with the full scope of the disaster still unknown.
The storm's punishing winds and muddy brown floodwaters destroyed or severely damaged thousands of homes, crippled hospitals and trapped people in attics.
"It's total devastation. It's decimated. Apocalyptic," said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a local hurricane relief organization and flew over the Bahamas' hard-hit Abaco Islands.
"It's not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again."
She said her representative on Abaco told her that there were "a lot more dead" and that the bodies were being gathered. The prime minister also expected more deaths and predicted that rebuilding would require "a massive, coordinated effort."
"We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country's history," Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told a news conference. "No effort or resources will be held back."
Emergency authorities struggled to reach victims and urged people to hang on.
Dorian kills five in Bahamas, US evacuates SE coast
Monster storm Dorian hovered over the Bahamas as surging seawaters and ferocious winds sowed chaos in low-lying island communities, killing at least five people and spurring mass evacuations on the US east coast.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis on Monday termed the hurricane a "historic tragedy" for the archipelago.
"Thus far, the Royal Bahamas Police Force has confirmed that there are five deaths in Abaco," Minnis told a news conference, referring to the islands where Dorian made landfall as a Category 5 storm on Sunday.
It weakened slightly to a still-dangerous Category 3 storm on Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
As Dorian ground to a standstill, pounding Grand Bahama further to the west of the island chain, the Bahamas tourism and aviation ministry announced the start of rescue operations "in parts where it is safe."
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