By DÁNICA COTO Associated Press
FREEPORT, Bahamas (AP) — Officials temporarily suspended aid efforts and closed a couple of small airports in the Bahamas Saturday as Tropical Storm Humberto dumped rain on parts of the archipelago’s northwest region that were already hammered by Hurricane Dorian two weeks ago.
Humberto lashed the islands as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the Bahamas to support humanitarian efforts in the wake of Dorian, which hit as a Category-5 storm that left thousands in need of food, water and shelter. The list of missing stands at an alarming 1,300 people and the death toll at 50. But officials caution the list is preliminary and many people could just be unable to connect with loved ones.
Threatening to exacerbate islands’ problems, Humberto’s rains were falling on Abaco island though conditions appeared normal Saturday afternoon in nearby Grand Bahama.
“Rains are the biggest issue right now,” member of parliament Iram Lewis said by telephone. “People are still reeling from the first storm.”
At 2 p.m. EDT, the hurricane center said the storm was located about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Great Abaco island and 120 miles (190 kilometers) east-northeast of Freeport, Grand Bahama. The storm was moving 7 mph (11 kph) with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph).
There was a tropical storm warning in effect for the northwest Bahamas, except for Andros Island, and 2 to 4 inches of rain was expected, with isolated amounts of 6 inches. Weather forecasters say Humberto will likely become a hurricane by Sunday night as it moves away from the Bahamas and the U.S. coast. It won’t threaten land as a hurricane but its swells could affect the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina later this weekend and early next week.
Under a bright sun in the Grand Bahama, 40-year-old maintenance man Dexter Wilson was helping a friend put a blue tarp on a damaged roof. He said he was worried about his brother in Abaco given the tropical storm.
“He’s still there. I don’t know why,” he said.
The hurricane center said most of Humberto’s heavy squalls were occurring north and east of the center of the storm, which was passing just east of Abaco. However, government officials in the Bahamas took no chances and urged people in damaged homes to seek shelter as they announced that aid efforts would be temporarily affected.
“The weather system will slow down logistics,” said Carl Smith, spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency.
The distribution of meals in Grand Bahama was reduced ahead of the storm, and a spokeserson for the United Nations World Food Program said all flights into its logistics hub in Marsh Harbor in Abaco were suspended.
Later Saturday, WFP spokesperson Herve Verhoosel said the agency had resumed activities in Marsh Harbor.
“Our team is back at work to support the population and relief organizations,” Verhoosel said in a statement.
Dave McGregor, president and COO of the Grand Bahama Power Company, said crews would resume restoring power as soon as possible.
“We are back in storm preparation mode again, unfortunately,” he said.
Guterres, who was in Abaco on Saturday, said earlier he hoped the weather would not impede his visit.
“In some areas, more than three-quarters of all buildings have been destroyed. Hospitals are either in ruins, or overwhelmed. Schools turned into rubble,” the U.N. secretary-general said in a prepared statement ahead of the visit.
He said thousands of people continue to need food, water and shelter, and U.N. humanitarian agencies are on the ground to help them.
“Our hearts go out to all the people of the Bahamas and the United Nations is right by their side,” he said.
In Freeport, 63-year-old construction worker Nathaniel Swann said he wasn’t worried about Humberto.
“Storms don’t bother me,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do about it.”