BAHAMAS — The long road to recovery will begin Wednesday in the Bahamas as rescue teams begin to assess the damage left behind by Hurricane Dorian.
After stalling over the northern Bahamas for hours and continuously battering the same devastated areas, the storm finally moved north Tuesday toward the southeastern US coast.
Residents and responders are likely to find thousands of damaged and destroyed homes and businesses, and authorities say, many more bodies as the recovery process begins.
The storm's death toll stands at seven people, according to Prime Minister Hubert Minnis.
"I want to ensure an informed Bahamian population that we can expect more deaths to be recorded," Minnis told reporters Tuesday.
"Our priority is search, rescue and recovery," he said, adding that the royal navy will be working to provide food and water to residents.
Some of the damage was already becoming clear late Tuesday. On Great Abaco Island, residents emerged to gasp at the incredible devastation as high winds remained but the rain had subsided. Huge piles of rubble were what remained of businesses and homes wrecked by the strongest storm ever to make landfall in the Bahamas, aerial video showed.
Brandon Clement, who was in a helicopter over the island, told CNN that even new homes constructed under more stringent building codes were destroyed by the storm. One older neighborhood is gone, he said.
"You can't tell that there are any homes there. It looks like a bunch of building materials were put in a big grinder and thrown on the ground," he said.
Minnis said parts of the Abaco Islands are decimated. He estimated that 60% of homes in Marsh Harbor, a town on the islands have sustained damage.
Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas as a Category 5 hurricane on Sunday night.
Freeport resident Harold Williams said he and his son went out on a Jet Ski to get stranded relatives who had to wade out to them in chest-deep waters.
"I don't think we've seen anything like this in our lifetime. Total destruction," Williams said.
Meanwhile, the National Airport is under water and helicopters were sent to rescue 30 people stranded from the flooding, Minnis said.
"We have been attacked by a vicious, devastating storm (from which there was no defense)," Minnis told CNN.
Minnis said additional police and security forces will be sent to the Abacos on Wednesday morning to prevent violence or looting.
People in need of food support following the storm may total more than 14,500 on Abaco Island and more than 45,700 on Grand Bahama Island, according to a preliminary analysis by the World Food Programme (WFP), spokesperson Herve Verhoosel said.
An 8-year-old boy is among the storm's victims.
Ingrid McIntosh, the boy's grandmother, told local news outlets that he is believed to have drowned in the rising waters. His body was found by her 31-year-old daughter, she told the Bahamas' Eyewitness News. She says her granddaughter is also missing.
Freeport resident Howard Armstrong said his wife drowned in front of him after the storm surge from Hurricane Dorian swamped their home, leaving them with only their heads were above the water.
After hours of waiting in the flooded house for rescue, Armstrong's wife succumbed to hypothermia and slipped under the water.
"She was gone so quickly," Armstrong said as he waited for his wife's body to be recovered.
Minnis asked that people not share the images of those who perished out of compassion.
While Dorian still raged on Grand Bahama Island, flooding streets and submerging cars, neighbors rushed to help one another, according to a CNN crew that watched rescued Bahamians brought to a bridge half-covered by water that was being used as a staging point.
Some of the people rescued were exhausted after spending all night clinging to their roofs or being stuck in their attics.
A slow moving storm
For all the power Dorian brought, it had the added devastation of moving slowly.
Dorian moved only 30 miles in 30 hours from Monday into Tuesday, pummeling the same areas with wind, rain and storm surge. And the Bahamas is still under a Tropical Storm warning due to remaining heavy rains and powerful winds.
The storm is headed for the mainland US next, moving up the Florida coast toward Georgia and the Carolinas.