Tens of thousands of people in The Bahamas are now trying to clean up, after Hurricane Dorian devastated vast tracts of the Caribbean islands and set off an oil spill that has made the task even more difficult.
In the small town of High Rock on Wednesday, the air smelt like fuel, the ground covered in a black paste-like substance following the oil spill at the Norwegian Equinor facility on the Grand Bahama island.
Dozens of residents have set up tents among the rubble that was once their homes, where they divide between them the meagre handouts that come their way.
Hurricane Dorian: Traumatised survivors living in shelters
Although they survived the disaster, they fear that the air that they breathe and the water that they drink is no longer safe despite being given water filters.
The oil is “deadly, deadly,” said Marco Roberts, 38, holding a mask and lamenting the poisoned state of his island.
“The oil is actually leaking in the water, and now you can’t bathe in the water, or you can’t drink the water. The only water we can bathe in is what you all give us,” he told AFP.
According to preliminary estimates Dorian caused some $7bn in damage, with 70,000 homes destroyed.
About 2,500 people also remain unaccounted for, according to the archipelago’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
The official death toll stands at 50, and Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said he expects the number to significantly increase.
Christy Delafield of Mercy Corps told Al Jazeera that it could take time for the authorities to identify all the missing.
Oil leakage to sea?
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On Wednesday, crews continued to remove debris in the worst-hit areas, moving slowly to avoid disturbing any bodies lying in the ruins.
As the cleanup begins, the first hints of normalcy could be seen in Freeport, a city on Grand Bahama that is run by a private company, without government involvement.
Lights began to flicker on in some neighbourhoods, and crews were seen repairing transformers in other areas.
But the small villages that dot the eastern coast of Grand Bahama have barely received any help. Some residents told AP that they had had to hitchhike every day from Freeport to their destroyed homes to sort through their belongings and clean up the debris.
The prime minister acknowledged the situation in a televised address late on Wednesday, acknowlegding there had been problems in coordination of aid due to the magnitude of the devastation.
“There are no words sufficient to describe this tragedy,” Minnis said. “No Bahamian has ever seen anything like this in their lifetime.”
Back at ground zero of the oil spill, several huge oil storage tanks were coloured black by the oil, which had spread over a still yet to be defined section of land near the coast.
It is not clear whether oil from the Equinor facility reached the ocean.
“There is currently no observed leakage of oil to the sea from the South Riding Point terminal,” Equinor said in a statement.
However, it said “surveillance has identified potential product in open waters 70-80 kilometers north east of the terminal within Long Point Bight close to Little Abaco Island.”
“There are also indications that the product may have impacted a section of the coastline,” it said.
Source of food
The spill occurred at Equinor’s South Riding Point terminal, which has a storage capacity of 6.75 million barrels of crude and condensate.
Rescue efforts continue after Hurricane Dorian leaves Bahamas
According to Equinor, the tanks were storing 1.8 million barrels when the hurricane hit.
Equinor said it had a team working on site.
Two vessels, equipped with onshore oil recovery equipment, had also been sent to help. The first arrived on Tuesday and the other was expected on Thursday.
Environmental activist Joseph Darville said he had fought for years with the NGO Waterkeepers Bahamas against the terminal, located along a coast that is dependent on tourism and fishing.
Darville came to the site to examine whether the spill had contaminated the beach.
He said he was glad to see small, recently-born fish in the water, which he said was encouraging.
“This is where most of all of our seafood comes from, from this area, from these magnificent coral reefs,” he said, including deep sea fish, like red snapper, grouper and lobster.
The area’s bonefish, he said, represent a $7bn industry.
“This is where they go along the shore,” he said, pointing along the beach to the sea where they eventually spawn.
“This is a sign to us not to be so foolish in the future,” he said.