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How To Help Hurricane Dorian Survivors In The Bahamas

Debris left by Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbour after it decimated much of the Abaco Islands.
Cheryl Diaz Meyer for NPR
Debris left by Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbour after it decimated much of the Abaco Islands.

Updated at 5:10 p.m. ET

The Bahamas' government is sharing a wish list of materials to help the country provide food and shelter for residents who are still reeling from Hurricane Dorian. Officials say they need lots of help and supplies — but they also want targeted donations.

"Officials here for instance don't want to be inundated with cans of green beans when what they really need is telephone poles," NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from the capital city, Nassau.

They're facing a relief and reconstruction job that's likely to go on for years.

"Cash is king. For us to rebuild these communities, we need funds," Barry Rassin, former president of Rotary International, tells Beaubien.

Saying money is the most flexible aid tool, Rassin is calling on people to give to established charities and hold them accountable. "Make sure we report back what we got and how we spent it," he says.

The Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency has published a page with instructions for anyone wanting to contribute to the Bahamas Disaster Relief Fund. And it says items such as chlorine tablets and hygiene kits are on its "preferred list" of donations.

The Bahamian government has also issued an "exigency order" listing needs ranging from tents and mosquito netting to plumbing fixtures and building materials to help speed the delivery of relief supplies in affected areas.

Broken electrical poles strewed a road to Marsh Harbour after Hurricane Dorian tore through the town as a Category 5 storm.
/ Cheryl Diaz Meyer for NPR
Cheryl Diaz Meyer for NPR
Broken electrical poles strewed a road to Marsh Harbour after Hurricane Dorian tore through the town as a Category 5 storm.

In an update Wednesday, NEMA spokesperson Carl Smith said some 2,500 people have been reported missing in the Bahamas. But he added that the names of those missing have not yet been cross-checked against the names of people who have been evacuated out or those who are in shelters.

More than 5,500 people have been transported to New Providence from Grand Bahama Island and the Abaco Islands, Smith said, citing the help of commercial air carriers and private pilots.

The Abacos suffered extensive damage to the power supply system. Smith said the power station in the town of Marsh Harbour was completely destroyed and that there's "a 20-mile stretch where all poles are down."

Chef and philanthropist José Andrés has been in the Bahamas for more than a week, and his World Central Kitchen delivered its 100,000th meal in the islands on Tuesday.

"I arrived to Marsh Harbor Tuesday 3rd to bring some meals and water, increasing production daily!" Andrés said on Twitter. "We were safe, we felt safe.....when you feed people, and they see you comeback they become your angel guardians."

NEMA called the relief effort "a massive operation with many moving parts," adding, "People's lives and livelihoods are at stake."

The rush to bring aid has also caused some logistical problems. Bahamian officials are struggling to deal with a wide-ranging disaster that has crippled infrastructure, limiting its ability to receive what has been a huge humanitarian response.

As aid flights headed to the Bahamas over the weekend, three airports became so congested that a bottleneck formed, according to the U.S.-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which says that on Grand Bahama and elsewhere, flights operated with "limited or no air traffic control facilities."

The association adds that an "alarming number" of arriving planes didn't follow procedures to get authorization before landing. And when they did land, there wasn't enough equipment available to unload the supplies.

One of the Bahamian government's first meetings with aid groups drew nearly 150 representatives from local NGOs, according to NEMA. Acknowledging "the frustrations that arise at times" during the relief effort, the agency says it has asked the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to help it mange the flow of information among groups.

If you are looking to donate money or goods, it's advisable to do a bit of research on any charity before you take action.

One place to start is Charity Navigator — which evaluates nonprofits and tracks where their money goes. The group has published a list of what it says are highly rated groups working to respond to Dorian.

Among the groups working with Andrés' organization is Global Shadow Marine — which is using a large expedition ship to ferry supplies and aid to the Bahamas from Florida. On Wednesday morning, the group said it had just made an overnight trip from the U.S., arriving in Freeport with 500,000 pounds of food and water.

The ship had spent two days at the Pier 66 Marina in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where members of the local fire department helped load pallets of supplies.

Another group bringing supplies is Sol Relief, a St. Petersburg, Fla., nonprofit that organizes flights to bring aid to disaster-stricken areas. As of late Tuesday, the group said it had just completed its 50th flight between the U.S. and the Bahamas.

Meanwhile, Portland, Ore.-based Mercy Corps, has been distributing solar lanterns equipped with USB chargers so that people can charge essential items, according to spokesperson Lynn Hector.

"We also have additional emergency supplies arriving, including mosquito nets, tarps, jerrycans, chlorine tablets to purify water, and rope," she said.

NPR staff who are reporting on the recovery effort in the Bahamas say they've seen the Bahamas Red Cross in numerous locations, along with U.N. groups such as the World Food Programme and the Pan American Health Organization, or PAHO.

And the groupWorld Hope International says it's been able to establish a clean water station at the Abaco Primary School. Its volunteers have also worked at Marsh Harbour and Green Turtle Cay.

On the far western tip of Grand Bahama Island, the Old Bahama Bay Resort & Yacht Harbour has declared itself a landing spot for aid, accepting more than 70 vessels this past Saturday alone. But the resort, which operates a private marina, was forced to close briefly after a video was posted online showing relief supplies sitting on its dock.

The company says via Facebook that "people were storming the resort and beach and a lot was taken including drugs, baby formula, and two coolers full of insulin that were desperately needed."

That closure lasted less than 24 hours, as Old Bahama Bay reopened after the government offered to boost the security and police presence at the resort.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.