Public cautioned over incorrect information on storm victims


Deputy Chief Reporter

CABINET ministers yesterday cautioned the public over the spread of erroneous information as officials continue to “meticulously” comb affected areas for deceased victims of Hurricane Dorian.

National Security Minister Marvin Dames and Health Minister Dr Duane Sands sought yesterday to rebuff the wave of speculation regarding victims of the storm and to defend the government’s process of officially declaring the death toll, which has been criticised as slow moving.

Mr Dames maintained that due to the large areas that need to be searched, it could be weeks before the last body is recovered.

Compounded by severe flooding, he said there is the possibility that some may never be found.

“We can only count what we know and what we see,” Mr Dames said yesterday ahead of a Cabinet meeting.

“We are meticulously searching the entire island. You can imagine how large the island is and its cays and so we’re not just searching one confined area.”

He took issue with what he sees as an effort to undermine the work of recovery teams, with claims from some that the government has attempted to suppress the death toll. This came after The Punch tabloid claimed that as many as 2,300 people had died.

“I want us to be extremely careful that we are dealing with persons who would have gone through a wide range of emotions and when we put this information out there on social media and in other spheres you know it further complicates things,” Mr Dames said. 

“I have heard some person saying ‘they are hiding the bodies.’ Why would we do that? Just tell me, what will it gain us to do such a thing?

“So we have to take hold of this and always with anything we print, with anything we say. Keep in mind those who would have endured tremendous loss and that’s something that’s always at the forefront of anything I say or do.

“We want to be extremely careful here and this search is not going to take a day or two days as people would want to think.”

He also said: “So we can’t get caught up in the news out there that there are lots of bodies. Well we want to know where those bodies are so we can go start looking for them because this is going to take weeks to get through Grand Bahama, Abaco and the cays with the large number of persons.

“We now currently have many searching because the searches have to be organised. They have to be methodical. We have to go house by house, settlement by settlement, cay by cay.”

Mr Dames said so far officials have received official missing persons reports for 20 people in Grand Bahama but have no idea how many are missing in Abaco.

As for Dr Sands, he insisted the process would not be rushed and denied that mass burials had taken place.

“The country now has benefitted from the assistance of a large team of experts (and) more than 100 cadaver dogs,” Dr Sands told reporters. “Over the past three days we have collected less than 10 bodies. So if these bodies are easily retrievable they would have been retrieved.

“I would have gone on record as suggesting to the public that they should be prepared for a significant increase in the number of recovered bodies. I stand by that, this Cabinet stands by that, the prime minister stands by that.

“But it is going to be a deliberate, meticulous, careful, painstaking process that you cannot use equipment that would violate the dignity of these human remains so you can’t go with a bulldozer and just rummage through a particular area.

“Imagine if this was your loved one you would want to know that all due care and attention was taken.”

He also said: “There have been no mass burials in Abaco. As a matter of fact we have not even completed the first autopsy on individuals who have succumbed form the storm in Abaco.”

He blamed the use of social media for the spread of false information.

“Social media is a serious thing, it’s a dangerous thing. We have had to dispel rumours about cholera. We have had to dispel rumours about mandatory evacuation. We have had to dispel rumours now about mass burials.

“It seems as if there are individuals who are either bored or just downright malicious and I kinda prefer to believe the second.”

Up to press time, the official death toll from Dorian stood at 50.