Shell-shocked residents of the northwest Bahamas began taking stock Friday of widespread damage from a direct hit by Hurricane Matthew — which slashed across the population and tourism centers of New Providence and Grand Bahama islands the day before with winds of 140 mph — amid relief that the massive storm appears to have largely spared life and limbs.
In hard-hit Freeport, police said people heeded warnings to stay sheltered and to secure homes and buildings, and there were no fatalities or serious injuries reported by late afternoon Friday, echoing reports from the capital of Nassau on New Providence, where the bulk of The Bahamas’ population of around 375,000 lives.
Assessments by the government were under way Friday, and facts and figures were still scant by the end of the day. But early reports did paint a picture of extensive damage to buildings, homes and electrical and communications infrastructure on Grand Bahama and New Providence, with utility poles down everywhere and streets blocked by floodwaters and fallen trees and debris. All of Freeport was without power. Bahamas Power and Light had begun restoring power on New Providence, but warned in a Facebook post the job could take “days, if not longer.”
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In the Grand Bahama communities of Eight Mile Rock and Holmes Rock, about 95 percent of buildings suffered significant damage, Brenda Colebrooke, the island administrator for West Grand Bahama, told the Tribune242 website. Matthew’s eyewall passed directly over the western portion of the island at about 8 p.m. Thursday, hours after raking across Nassau at mid-day.
“Portions of the homes were blown out and roofs were completely blown off,” Colebrooke said.
Still, given the power of the storm, which escalated from a Category 3 to a Category 4 hurricane as it swept on a northwest path through the Bahamian islands on its way to Florida, the nation seems to have weathered the blow relatively well, said Clint Watson, a broadcast journalist at ZNS Radio 3 in Nassau who has been compiling damage reports.
“While there is widespread destruction, it could have been far worse,” Watson said in an interview. “We fared well.”
Watson said there were reports of serious damage to more lightly populated Andros Island, to the west of New Providence, which also scored a direct strike from Matthew. But spotty communications meant details were unavailable, he said.
“We’re getting reports of devastation on North Andros, but communication is difficult,” Watson said.
There were no confirmed reports of deaths from Matthew anywhere in the Bahamas and few reports of serious injury, according to news and police reports. One person who was airlifted to Nassau from Andros died of a heart attack, but it had not been determined whether that was linked to the storm, Watson said.
Bahamian officials were still out assessing damage Friday afternoon and staffers said a full accounting was some time away.
“It's a little too early to say what is what,” said Preston Cunningham, administrator for the city of Freeport, who added that debris was scattered throughout the city.
The hurricane began its assault on the Bahamas on Wednesday night as a Category 3 storm, leaving flooded streets and damage in its wake on the southern islands of Great Exuma and Long Island, among others, though preliminary reports suggested those were not as hard-hit as the central and northwest islands a day later.
Bahamian tourism officials said they expected the industry to take a hit, with flights and cruise ships diverted while officials assessed damage to ports and resorts.
Matthew’s direct strike on the Bahamas came almost a year to the day after Hurricane Joaquin devastated the southern Bahamas islands of Crooked Island, Rum Cay, Long Island and San Salvador, among others. Flooding persisted for days after the storm’s departure. Joaquin spared the northern islands that now appear to have borne the brunt of Matthew.