As relief efforts stepped up in the Bahamas and reports of bodies and desperate survivors filtered out, a cruise ship planned to bring back at least 1,100 islanders to Palm Beach County.
FREEPORT, Bahamas — Cynthra Moss waited to board a cruise ship Friday afternoon that came to rescue those left homeless in the hurricane-ravaged Bahamas, a nation growing more chaotic and grim by the second.
"We don’t have anywhere to stay. I’m trying to get my kids out of here," Moss said. "The water came in and washed everything away. So we don’t have nothing."
Moss was one of at least 1,100 Bahamians coming back aboard the Riviera Beach-based Grand Celebration, a vessel owned by Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line. It is returning this morning from Freeport.
But Moss had no intention of leaving her homeland in crisis. She planned to drop off her four children — the youngest is 2 — with family in West Palm Beach. She then wants to head back to the Bahamas to find them a new home.
With her children safe, Moss would be free to look for some place to live or even seek repairs for her former home. "I just want to get them out of here and then come back," she said.
Bahamians left homeless in Grand Bahama, Great Abaco and the surrounding cays baked in the sweltering heat on Friday even as relief efforts amped up.
Many wanted out of places flattened by the Category 5 storm packing gusts as high as 220 mph that turned a tourist destination into something dystopian with concern about rotting bodies mounting.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of Bahamians are still missing in the country of about 400,000 people. The death toll stood at 30 midday Friday, but as the floodwaters recede more are being discovered dead.
"Scores of dead bodies are littered all across the island of Abaco and Grand Bahama, posing a dangerous threat to residents," Bahamas Press reported.
Bahama’s Health Minister Duane Sands warned of a "staggering" final death toll.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida became a tweeting machine as he flew over the disaster zones with Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, painting a picture of despair that he said only military intervention could resolve.
A private rescue effort mounted in Elbow Cay with a private ferry leased to take about 200 injured and infirm residents to nearby Nassau for medical aid.
But the hospitals were running out of supplies, oil tanks were leaking into the ocean and there was no fuel at the airports.
While flying over Abaco, Rubio tweeted, "It looks like it’s been hit by a bomb not by a storm."
Rescue groups from the U.S. were on the ground furiously looking for bodies.
"You smell the decomposing bodies as you walk through Marsh Harbour," said Sandra Sweeting, 37, in an interview with Reuters news service amid the wreckage on Great Abaco. "It’s everywhere. There are a lot of people who aren’t going to make it off this island."
The Grand Celebration arrived Friday at 7 a.m. with tons of supplies and carrying volunteer physicians, a crew specializing in marine salvage and another specializing in environmental disasters.
Dr. Arthur Vercillo of Palm Beach, who was part of the cruise, treated a patient with a broken femur at a shelter set up at Christ the King AME Cathedral. He then moved on to a woman who had collapsed from dehydration.
A shelter was full of seniors who were brought there when the hospital was flooded. "Mostly what we're seeing is dehydration. Day after day of minimal food and water," Vercillo said.
The ship holds 1,900 and the cruise line said more than 1,100 could be returning.
Bahamians could be seen carrying possessions in plastic bags hoping for a flight out of the disaster zone but airports were only open to emergency responders.
Rubio repeated his concern that all the donated relief supplies may be vain. "First order must be someplace to deliver to it in Abaco," he tweeted.
He said the private efforts to take relief to the Bahamas was phenomenal but only the Defense Department had the heavy lift capacity to deliver the large amount of diesel fuel, medicine, water and food needed.
Most airports in the Bahamas were either unable to receive supplies because they are not operational or roads out of the airports have been washed away. Cooper Town and Sandy Point seaports were also not operational but Marsh Harbour had some capacity to receive relief supplies.
The Trump administration requested "airlift and logistics support" from the Defense Department.
USAID formally made the request of the Pentagon on Friday afternoon after conducting aerial and on-the-ground assessments of the devastation caused by Dorian earlier this week, according to news reports.
The United Nations announced the purchase of eight tons of ready-to-eat meals and said it will provide satellite communications equipment and airlift storage units, generators and prefab offices to set up logistics hubs. U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said about 70,000 people "are in immediate need of life-saving assistance" on Grand Bahama and Great Abaco.
Rubio, a Republican, said he couldn’t emphasize enough that the most serious problems are in Great Abaco and the adjacent cays.
"Abaco is impossible to supply right now, rendering it increasingly uninhabitable for approximately 2,000 people on the ground," Rubio tweeted.
The Bahamian health ministry said helicopters and boats are on the way to help people in affected areas, though officials warned of delays because of severe flooding and limited access.
Because of the flooding, oil tanks were leaking, Rubio said, but for now they were contained inside of berms. A U.S. government hazmat team was to arrive shortly, he tweeted.
A British Royal Navy ship docked at Abaco and distributed supplies to hurricane survivors. On Grand Bahama, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship dropped off 10,000 meals, 10,000 bottles of water and more than 180 generators, as well as diapers and flashlights.
American Airlines said it flew a Boeing 737 from Miami to Nassau to drop off 14,000 pounds of relief supplies.
And while turmoil boiled on the main islands, a quiet but amazing rescue occurred on Elbow Cay.
Matt Winslow, of Rochester, N.Y., who owns property on Elbow Cay, sent in a team to help the Hope Town Volunteer Fire Department. His team leased a private ferry and at dawn transported 200 people to Nassau.
"They were either elderly, sick, children or just non-essential people there needed for the next phrase," Winslow said.
"What Hope Town has not been able to do is mass evacuate."
Winslow was in Fort Lauderdale on Friday trying to secure sea planes to fly into the cays.
"It’s a pretty unbelievable situation," he said. "I know Navy Seals are on the ground. It’s such widespread devastation even the large response organizations are having trouble wrapping their arms around it."
Celebrity chef Jose Andres and his World Central Kitchen were already in position before the hurricane hit and now plans to cook a giant paella to feed hungry hurricane survivors.
Andrés, who has helped feed victims of other natural disasters, including Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Florence, had already flown 2,000 sandwiches and more than 1,000 oranges to the island. He plans to serve at least 10,000 meals to people in the Bahamas.
"Freeport team is already on the ground cooking paella," the Spanish chef tweeted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.