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Update On Recovery In The Bahamas


A new tropical system is bringing more wind and rain to the Bahamas today, complicating recovery efforts after Hurricane Dorian devastated parts of the islands. The official death toll is in the dozens, but more than a thousand people are still missing and feared dead. Dr. Duane Sands is the Minister of Health for the Bahamas and joins us. Dr. Sands, thanks so much for being with us.

DUANE SANDS: Good morning. Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you.

SIMON: So many of us have seen the devastation in parts of the Bahamas. What's everyday life like for people there trying to recover and then now confronting the onset of another storm?

SANDS: Well, for many people, this has been an historic, generational event. I've used the term apocalyptic conditions. It is as if entire communities have just been removed from the face of the land. People have lost everything. They've lost homes, possessions and, in some cases, loved ones. Sometimes, it's a matter of simply getting enough food and water. They're not working, of course, because there's no place to work. It is an absolutely devastating and utterly difficult time for many, many people.

SIMON: What are the challenges of trying to continue the recovery efforts and getting food and assistance out to people while a new storm comes?

SANDS: Well, we wonder. We wonder just how bad this is going to be. I will tell you, however, that we have not made any additional evacuation plans because we are watching the forecast very closely and carefully. We believe that the main problem will be rain and wind below 40 to 50 knots. That may sound terrible, but when you have just experienced winds at 200 miles an hour, it's really not that frightening. So we soldier on. We are more worried about the next storm that is on its way. And the modelling for that storm is much more frightening than this one.

SIMON: What are some of the particular challenges your office faces?

SANDS: To give you an idea, in Grand Bahama - which is about 100 miles long - if you put a line that bisects the island of Grand Bahama, every clinic east of that line has been destroyed, literally destroyed. And so to be able to provide health services to people, you have to create mobile facilities. We were left with one ambulance in Grand Bahama. We have had to fly in - literally fly in several more. Supplies destroyed. The nurses and doctors and allied health personnel - many of them have no clothes. Their homes have been lost. And some of them have even lost their mothers, their fathers, their children. And so the capacity to respond has been diminished.

SIMON: And, of course, Dr. Sands, I know you're not responsible for the entire Bahamian government, but I wonder what you would say to people who contend that the government has been slow to respond.

SANDS: Well, you know, as a member of the cabinet, we have heard the criticism. And we ourselves are very critical of our own response. And we look every single day at the gaps in response and try to improve it. We believe that we have responded as rapidly as possible. But the profound nature of the assault by Mother Nature is such that no matter what the response, people have suffered so tremendously, been so emotionally scarred that no matter when your relief arrived, you would find people feeling as if they were at their wits' end. And so we continue to try and plug the holes, fill the gaps. But it is not normal. We happen to be the government of the day. And as such, we take and accept the criticism.

SIMON: Dr. Duane Sands is Minister of Health for the Bahamas. Thanks so much for being with us.

SANDS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.