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Thousands in Bahamas struggle to find work after Dorian

A toy fire engine sits in the rubble of a house destroyed by Hurricane Dorian in Gold Rock Creek, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Thursday Sept. 12, 2019. Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Dorian hit the northern Bahamas, people continue to scan social media, peer under rubble or follow the smell of death in an attempt to find family and friends. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

They scan social media, peer under rubble, or try to follow the smell of death in an attempt to find family and friends.

They search amid alarming reports that 1,300 people remain listed as missing nearly two weeks after Hurricane Dorian hit the northern Bahamas.

The government has cautioned that the list is preliminary and many could be staying in shelters and just haven't been able to connect with loved ones. But fears are growing that many died when the Category 5 storm slammed into the archipelago's northern region with winds in excess of 185 mph and severe flooding that toppled concrete walls, cracked trees in half and ripped swings off playgrounds as Dorian battered the area for a day and a half.

"If they were staying with me, they would've been safe," Phil Thomas Sr. said as he leaned against the frame of his roofless home in the fishing village of McLean's Town and looked into the distance.

The boat captain has not seen his 30-year-old son, his two grandsons or his granddaughter since the storm. They were all staying with his daughter-in-law, who was injured and taken to a hospital in the capital, Nassau, after the U.S. Coast Guard found her — but only her.

"People have been looking, but we don't really come up with anything," Thomas said, adding that he's heard rumors that someone saw a boat belonging to his son, a marine pilot, though the vessel also hasn't been found.

He especially misses his 8-year-old grandson: "He was my fishing partner. We were close."

The loss weighs on Thomas, who said he tries to stay busy cleaning up his home so he doesn't think about them.

"It's one of those things. I'm heartbroken, but life goes on," he said. "You pick up the pieces bit by bit. ... I've got to rebuild a house. I've got three more kids. I've got to live for them until my time comes."

Meanwhile, a cluster of heavy thunderstorms is heading toward the Bahamas and is expected to further drench the communities bashed by Dorian. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Thursday that the system was expected to become a tropical storm within 36 hours and would hit parts of the northwestern Bahamas with tropical storm-force winds and heavy rains.

In the Abaco islands, which Prime Minister Hubert Minnis says are mostly decimated, the search for loved ones is even more intense. Diego Carey, a 25-year-old from the hard-hit community of Marsh Harbor, left Abaco for the capital, Nassau, after Dorian hit but returned Thursday after a 12-hour boat ride to search for two friends who remain missing.

"We were together during the storm. It happened so fast. The roof just blew off," he said, adding that was the last time he saw them. "It's so traumatizing."

At least 42 people died in Abaco and eight in Grand Bahama, and Minnis has warned that number will increase significantly.

He assured Bahamians in a recent televised address that the government was working hard to recover bodies and notify families, adding that officials are providing counseling amid reports of nightmares and psychological trauma.

"The grief is unbearable," the prime minister said. "Many are in despair, wondering if their loved ones are still alive."

Amanda St. Amand • 314-340-8201

@mandystlpd on Twitter

astamand@post-dispatch.com