The Bahamas' former health minister says the country so badly botched its record-keeping on Hurricane Dorian's missing victims that today it cannot say with certainty how many people actually died in the horrific storm.
Dr. Duane Sands, speaking in the country's Parliament on Thursday, said the Bahamas should convene a coroner's inquest to help bring closure to grieving families. Thousands of names of the missing after the hurricane disappeared off the missing-persons list, he said, without explanation.
There should also be a public conversation about the mistake, he said, and a public apology by the government "for getting it wrong the first time."
"Let us publish the names of the lost souls and then formally memorialize them," Sands said.
Dorian hit the Abacos and Grand Bahama over Labor Day weekend in September 2019 as a catastrophic Category 5 storm, and the most powerful hurricane to ever hit the archipelago southeast of Florida. The storm came to a near-standstill over the islands, leaving major devastation. According to Sands, the official death toll was 74.
The storm's massive destruction along with the slow pace of the rescue and recovery led to wide speculation that the true number of deaths was far higher than what the government has said. Taking to social media, Bahamians at the time said they had personally counted scores of dead bodies. Others questioned whether the government was telling the truth.
Sands defended the counting, telling the Miami Herald the government was not suppressing Hurricane Dorian's death toll and was simply tallying confirmed deaths as the bodies arrived at the morgue.
He called information suggesting a cover-up "false" and "unfortunate."
On Thursday, while addressing his fellow lawmakers, Sands acknowledged the government screwed up. A missing-persons list, controlled by the Ministry of Social Services and which had thousands of names, was pruned, he said, after the Royal Bahamas Police Force took over. "Thousands or hundreds of names" were excluded from the official list of names, he told Parliament during a budget debate.
"To this day we do not know what happened," Sands said.