‘Our government failed us’: Bahamians were left to coordinate rescue efforts on social media after Hurricane Dorian

People wait in Marsh Harbour Port to be evacuated to Nassau, in Abaco, Bahamas, Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. Ramon Espinosa/AP
  • Hurricane Dorian made landfall over the Bahamas on September 1 as a Category 5 storm and proceeded to devastate some areas of the Bahamas with relentless amounts of rain and wind.
  • At least 30 people have been counted as killed in connection to the storm, but some Bahamians told Insider that number would be much higher if young and social media-savvy residents didn’t jump to coordinate search and rescues across the badly hit islands.
  • “Our government has failed us,” freelance journalist and native Bahamian Kimberly Mullings told Insider. “If we hadn’t stepped up, we don’t know where we would be.”
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Hurricane Dorian made landfall over the Bahamas on September 1 as a Category 5 storm and proceeded to dump relentless amounts of rain and wind on the Bahamas, causing widespread flooding and devastation over the next several days.

At least 30 people were ultimately killed, and the death toll could rise as rescuers search ravaged neighbourhoods, homes, and roads on the country’s islands, including Abaco and Grand Bahama.

Dr. Crystal deGregory, a historian and former professor, told Insider she was on vacation in her native Bahamas on the Grand Bahama Island through the storm, where she saw conditions quickly deteriorate.

“We made all the preparations that we could and I thought we would just sit and wait,” she said. “But as the news came in from Abaco we knew that this was going to be something that was different about this storm, that it would be unlike any storm that any probably living Bahamian have ever faced before.”

Ahead of the storm’s landfall, experts found it difficult to forecast, but Dorian quickly proved to be a devastating combination for the low-lying islands as it moved at a walking pace, brewing over the islands and sending 15-20 foot storm surges that overwhelmed the communities.

DeGregory said that as Bahamians saw the damage from the storm intensify and found government resources like helpline telephone numbers prove unhelpful, island residents “deputized themselves to see about search and rescue in their private vehicles or whatever things they had, whether it be boats or even jet skis.”

Residents heard about families in need through friends and neighbours who were tracking the storm on their phones before they would tweet, text, and call to reach out for help once they knew someone was in trouble.

DeGregory said that she first got involved in helping with rescue efforts when her sister’s home was flooded and the family waded through chest-high waters before they reached safety. As the storm went on, she saw connections bloom across social media to rescue and reunite families.

“There’s no number that everyone knows for disasters of this magnitude and there was no social media plan whatsoever,” deGregory said. “So everything that happened purely happened because someone would connect it to someone who was connected to someone who’s connected to someone else.”

Bahamas hurricane dorian
An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas,September 4, 2019. Joe Skipper/Reuters

Read more: A woman who survived Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas told us people weren’t prepared for 20-foot storm surges, and now the islands are ‘absolutely destroyed’

“When citizens have to deputize themselves to rescue their fellow countrymen and women because those who were paid to serve and protect and lead are failing to do so, we have a serious problem,” deGregory said.

Freelance journalist Kimberly Mullings left the first days of her second year at North Carolina Central University to be with her mother during the storm in her native Bahamas. She told Insider that “the government failed” Bahamians, who saved countless lives because of their quick organising.

“Our government has failed us,” Mullings said. “If we hadn’t stepped up, we don’t know where we would be.”

On Friday, Mullings said she was acting as a point of contact for families who needed to be rescued and the private planes and boats of those willing to head to the most battered islands, where at least 30 had been counted as dead as of the end of the week.

“We couldn’t wait for the government,” Mullings said. “If we had waited on the government, we’d have way more, you know, hundreds of hundreds of more dead bodies.”

For Insider’s live reporting about the latest progress of the hurricane, click here »

The Bahamas Health Minister, Duane Sands, said Friday that the agency is aware of uncollected bodies and that he expected the death toll to rise significantly. He also announced that there would be a new process for updating the death toll, which compares numbers from health teams and the Royal Bahamas Police, in an attempt to avoid getting any “mixed information.”

“I want to be very clear,” he told reporters in a press conference, according to CNN. “Certainly, The Ministry of Health and the Government of the Bahamas has no interest in suppressing information. What we want to do is ensure the information that is given is accurate.”

The storm’s recovery is far from over, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement early Saturday that, at the request of the Bahamian government, the US Agency for International Development has sent a Disaster Assistance Response Team to support and coordinate the country’s official relief efforts.

Read more:

Cruise ships from Norwegian and Royal Caribbean are bringing supplies to the Bahamas to help victims of Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian made landfall in North Carolina Friday morning. The storm has killed at least 30 people in the Bahamas and 5 in the US.

Heartwarming stories of people rescuing animals from Hurricane Dorian