The Bahamas' minister of health says the government is in no way suppressing Hurricane Dorian's death toll, and are tallying confirmed deaths that have arrived at the morgue.
With people reporting on social media that they have personally counted scores of dead bodies, and others asking why the government isn't telling the truth about the number of individuals who died in the Abacos and on Grand Bahama Island during Hurricane Dorian's catastrophic Category 5 winds, Health Minister Duane Sands said the narrative is "false" and unfortunate.
The public, he said, should have a better appreciation for the task facing the Bahamas, which has U.S. search and recovery teams, cadaver dogs and U.S. Coast Guard helicopters combing the devastation in search of missing individuals. Meanwhile, teams have begun setting up field hospitals, including a mobile floating hospital to cover a number of the Abaco cays, and the government is preparing to build temporary shelter facilities for storm victims.
"I am actually a bit concerned that the focus has been for some people the body count," Sands told the Miami Herald in an interview. "It is not the priority. The priority is find those people for their loved ones who are missing them; to take care, provide comfort to those people who are hurt, who are suffering, that's the priority. To put food in people's bellies, water in their throat."
Still, the government is searching for missing individuals and bodies. On Sunday, the death toll was upped from 43 to 44 after search teams late Saturday recovered one body in Abaco.
"We head there were all of these bodies in a particular area so teams from the United States, from the Bahamas and Jamaica and other places went out and we recovered one body yesterday," Sands said.
"We've heard the numbers, a 1,000, 200, 500, 600. We've heard all of the claims," he added. "And the language I have used and the language that the prime minister has used and all of the cabinet, and 1/8the National Emergency Management Agency3/8, has been a description of the number of confirmed deaths, these are people in the morgue.
"We've also noted that there are a number of missing persons. We also acknowledged that there are people we know who are in the field and have not been retrieved," he added. "What the number is unclear but we expect that number to rise from the 44-storm related deaths in our morgues to rise significantly."
And whatever that number is, he said, the government is ready. He acknowledged that additional body bags have been requested by the public health agency with responsibility for the mortuaries but said he did not know how many.
"We have to prepare for whatever inevitability and so whether it's a thousand, or 2,000 or 500 body bags, we need to have the ability to make sure that every single remain can be treated with dignity and managed appropriately," Sands said. "So yes, there are refrigerated coolers in Grand Bahama; yes there are refrigerated coolers in Abaco; yes there are body bags; yes we need to make sure we have enough.