Bahamas: Crews try to recover the dead at devastated Marsh Harbour

Many hurricane victims lived in sprawling, illegally constructed shantytowns

Michelle Guerrier watches as a forensic team works to remove bodies found in a collapsed church in the Pigeon Peas neighborhood of Marsh Harbour. Photograph: Daniele Volpe/The New York Times

Michelle Guerrier watches as a forensic team works to remove bodies found in a collapsed church in the Pigeon Peas neighborhood of Marsh Harbour. Photograph: Daniele Volpe/The New York Times

 

The official death toll attributed Hurricane Dorian remains at 44 but there is no estimate yet of how many people are unaccounted for.

The Bahamian security forces are still responding to reports of missing and trapped people, officials said, and teams of forensic investigators are still combing through the storm debris.

In the Abacos, among the hardest hit neighborhoods were shantytowns mostly populated by poor Haitian immigrants, many of them undocumented. And though the government has not provided the identities of the victims, or information about where they died, many Abaconians suspect that some of the highest concentrations of fatalities will be in the sprawling, illegally constructed shantytowns of Marsh Harbour known as the Mudd and Pigeon Peas.

Thousands of people, most of them Haitian laborers and their families, lived in those two contiguous communities, labyrinths of rudimentary homes mostly built from plywood and two-by-fours. While the Bahamas has one of the strictest building codes in the region, most if not all of the structures in the Mudd and Pigeon Peas did not adhere to them.

The hurricane last week blasted the neighborhoods’ homes to pieces and reduced the area to a vast debris field of splintered wood, pulverized cinder block, twisted metal, scattered personal belongings and bodies.

The government crews looking for bodies have been working in Marsh Harbour throughout the week, though it remained unclear how they chose their locations and when they planned to enter the Mudd and Pigeon Peas.

Requests for interviews with the commanders of the Royal Bahamas Police Force and Royal Bahamas Defence Force in Marsh Harbour were declined or went unanswered, and the chief governmental administrator for the region was unreachable Sunday.

On Saturday, a forensics team of about a dozen men and women dressed in white hooded jumpsuits descended on a property near Pigeon Peas, following up on a report of bodies trapped in a collapsed church.

They pulled three bodies from the rubble, wrapped them in plastic body bags and laid them out on the back of a flatbed truck.

Minutes later, after the truck had driven away, Michelle Guerrier approached the site, flustered. She was the niece of one of the victims and knew the others, and she had hoped to bear witness to the extraction of their bodies. “I’m late,” said Guerrier (37) a resident of Pigeon Peas. “I couldn’t see them for the last time.” The three victims had sought shelter in the church during the hurricane, she said.

Dejected, Guerrier turned the corner, slipped through the tangled branches of a fallen tree and into the Pigeon Peas, picking her way carefully through the wasteland of her destroyed neighborhood. – New York Times