Teen dies as storm batters Bahamas

Widespread damage reported

utilities down

Hurricane Frances

September 04, 2004|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,ORLANDO SENTINEL

NASSAU, Bahamas - Hurricane Frances barreled up the Bahamas yesterday, ravaging island after island with high winds, heavy rains and surging seas as it took aim on Florida.

In Nassau, home to two-thirds of the nation's 300,000 inhabitants, 90-mph gusts blew out windows, sheared limbs off trees and ripped power lines from utility poles. White surf smashed boats into seawalls and flooded coastal roads.

A Nassau teenager was electrocuted yesterday, the first death here attributed to Frances. Police reported scattered looting in the capital.

On the more sparsely populated islands that were directly in the hurricane's path, sustained winds of up to 145 mph plucked trees from the ground, tore roofs off houses and wiped out bananas, coconuts and other key crops.

"This storm has become very intimate with the Bahamas," government meteorologist Michael Stubbs said. "It's touching just about every island."

Weakening to a still-powerful Category 3 hurricane, with sustained winds of 115 mph, the vast storm was churning late yesterday toward the island of Grand Bahama, home to Freeport, the nation's second-largest city. Police there were pleading with residents to evacuate low-lying neighborhoods that already were flooding last night.

Earlier yesterday in Nassau, 18-year-old Kenrad Delaney was electrocuted as he tried to fill a generator with diesel fuel, police said. One man was arrested in the capital as he attempted to steal appliances. Another broke into a gas station. Guards were dispatched to Nassau International Airport after winds tore open offices there.

Sections of the island remained without power through the day. Prime Minister Perry Christie made a brief tour in the afternoon to find damaged buildings, flooded streets and debris everywhere.

"If this is any indication," he said, "we have some very real challenges ahead of us that will require not only major effort but major funding."

He said he had contacted the Inter-American Development Bank for assistance. Teams from the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Pan American Health Organization were in the islands. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency and a British aid vessel were standing by.

Reports began coming in from those islands hit hardest. On San Salvador, trapped under the slow-moving storm for more than 30 hours Thursday and yesterday, 15 to 20 percent of homes were damaged, National Disaster Emergency Coordinator Carl Smith said.

Wind tore roofs off a high school on Long Island and a church on Cat Island, and splintered trees on Eleuthera. Electricity, phone and water lines were cut along the storm route.

The U.S. Coast Guard was searching for a boat that made a distress call Thursday night about 12 miles west of Bimini. A helicopter from Miami and a Hercules C-130 airplane from Clearwater were looking for the 33-foot pleasure boat, which left Bimini with three people Thursday for Fort Lauderdale.

The U.S. State Department had urged American citizens earlier this week to leave the Bahamas and evacuated about 200 non-emergency diplomatic personnel and family members Wednesday.

Cruise lines diverted ships; airlines canceled flights. Some hotels closed; others urged guests out of their rooms and into better-protected restaurants or conference centers.

Marshall Darville was waiting out the storm with his family in their home in the Seabreeze settlement outside of Nassau.

With no power since Thursday, they were using hurricane lanterns to see and a camping stove to cook tuna, corned beef and grits. Gusts had peeled up shingles, splintered trees and littered the yard with debris. Water was seeping in through the front door.

"It's going to be a tremendous task to clean up afterward," Darville, the owner of an auto paint and body shop in the capital, said while the winds still howled. "Now, you just batten up and sit tight."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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