20 dead, dozens missing days after Hurricane Dorian devastates Bahamas

BAHAMAS — The death toll continues to climb in the Bahamas days after Hurricane Dorian devastated the islands.

The official death toll from the strongest hurricane on record ever to hit the country jumped to 20, and there is little doubt it will climb higher. Dozens are still missing.

The storm pounded the Bahamas with Category 5 winds up to 185 mph and torrential rains, swamping neighborhoods in brown floodwaters and destroying or severely damaging, by one estimate, nearly half the homes in Abaco and Grand Bahama, which have 70,000 residents and are known for their marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts.

[TRACKING DORIAN: Hurricane regains strength, now Cat. 3 as it pushes toward Carolinas]

Bahamian Health Minister Duane Sands said 17 of the dead were from the Abaco islands and three from Grand Bahama. He said he could not release further details because the government still had to contact family members.

The Bahamian government sent hundreds of police officers and marines into the stricken islands, along with doctors, nurses and other health care workers, in an effort to reach drenched and stunned victims and take the full measure of the disaster.

"There are many in Grand Bahama who are suffering," Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said at a news conference. "We know there are many Bahamians that are in need of help. I want to assure you that more help is on the way."

He thanked the international community for its response, especially the U.S. government for what he called their "exceptional assistance."

[PHOTOS: Hurricane Dorian causes floods, devastation across the Bahamas]

The U.S. Coast Guard, Britain's Royal Navy and relief organizations including the United Nations and the Red Cross joined the burgeoning effort to rush food and medicine to survivors and lift the most desperate people to safety by helicopter. The U.S. government also dispatched urban search-and-rescue teams.

The U.S. mainland recorded its first death in connection with the hurricane, that of an 85-year-old man in North Carolina who fell off a ladder while preparing his home for the storm. Dorian was also blamed for one death in Puerto Rico.

Earlier Thursday morning, Dorian has crept back up to Category 3 force with 115 mph (185 kph) winds and was pushing toward a brush with the Carolinas - with a direct hit on the outer banks possible. An estimated 3 million people in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina had been warned to clear out, and highways leading inland were turned into one-way evacuation routes.

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Forecasters said there is the danger of life-threatening floods as storm surge moves inland from the coastline, as well as the potential for over a foot of rain in some spots.

"Hurricane Dorian has its sights set on North Carolina," Gov. Roy Cooper said. "We will be ready."