Search And Rescue In The Bahamas

Sep 6, 2019
Originally published on September 6, 2019 9:14 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hurricane Dorian is now looming over the Carolinas, but we still don't even know the full extent of the storm's impact on the Bahamas. The death toll there has risen to at least 30, but authorities warn that figure is likely to rise as search and rescue teams manage to gain access to some of the islands. On Abaco and Grand Bahama, buildings have been obliterated, whole sections remain underwater - all of which makes the rescue and recovery effort dangerous and complicated.

Neko Gibson is a founder of BahamasEvac Services. It is his job to help find stranded survivors and bring them to safety. We reached him between search and rescue runs.

Mr. Gibson, thank you so much for taking the time this morning.

NEKO GIBSON: Thank you.

MARTIN: First if I could just ask you to just describe what the effort looks like right now. How many people have you been able to help at this point?

GIBSON: We've been able to transport around 60 people. The priority right now is just to get all of the injured people out. There's still a large number of injured people on the ground that have sustained, you know, lacerations, injuries to legs, arms, heads, you name them. So we're just trying to do what we can to get those people to medical facilities. U.S. Coast Guard has been doing an amazing job helping us out on that end. The problem is we're just trying to coordinate the extraction of all of those people that need to be airlifted out before we focus on efforts going in.

MARTIN: If I can ask more details on the rescue efforts, where are you extracting people from? Are you - and how are you finding them?

GIBSON: So the people that we've been coordinating with have, you know, somehow gotten word out through other patients that have been airlifted, giving their locations and their GPS coordinates. And we've just been coordinating that with NEMA, U.S. Coast Guard and word of mouth on the ground as to how we can get to these people.

MARTIN: And the kinds of injuries - you said there's a lot of lacerations. Presumably, this is from falling debris. What can you say about the injuries you're seeing?

GIBSON: Yes. I mean, for the injuries, it's all - you know, if you think about it from a debris standpoint, there's a ton of water moving, you know, very, very quickly. Visibility, you know, for that water is really reduced. So, you know, as you can imagine, there's a lot of people that got hit and brushed by certain debris and parts. You know, people being stuck in their homes, things floating around that they can't physically see. So, like I said, you know, just trying to get a handle on those personnel that really needs to be flown in for medical attention.

MARTIN: What is - if I can ask, what is their emotional state?

GIBSON: I mean, everybody is up spirit and thankful for, first of all, life and just the ability to be reunited with their families because, you know, that was a part of - it's a really traumatic experience. I think they're most grateful to be alive. And I think, you know, the Bahamian people, they're really resilient and, you know, they're adequate about getting in and rebuilding. But for now, it's just, you know, just being thankful for the life in itself.

MARTIN: Is there a specific story you could share with us, someone you met during this, someone you were able to help?

GIBSON: One that sticks out in my mind is a mother that lost her own child in the storm, that was one of the victims confirmed. And, like I said, I really can't say much other than the fact that, you know, a lot of people lost their lives, a lot of people lost their children. And it's tough. It's really tough.

MARTIN: Where are the people staying, the people who you are able to help and rescue?

GIBSON: So those people, you know, other than when they leave the hospitals, they have - some of them have families that they stay with. The government is stepping in to assist, social services - everybody's doing a great job on that end. So we're just trying to get every other Bahamian to open their doors and just, you know, do the right thing, like, right now.

MARTIN: I imagine you've seen hurricanes there before, and especially in your line of work. How does this one measure up?

GIBSON: It's a totally different category entirely. I can't even wrap my mind around the significance and difference right now. I mean, literally entire communities obliviated - I mean, just gone.

MARTIN: Neko Gibson is the founder of BahamasEvac Services, which is helping with search and rescue missions on the islands. Thank you so much for taking a few minutes to talk with us.

GIBSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.