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Coast Guard base commander reflects on response in Bahamas to Hurricane Dorian: ‘It looks like it was bombed out’


Amid a mounting death toll and massive destruction in the Bahamas from Hurricane Dorian, the U.S. Coast Guard has so far rescued 252 people, and aided 149 others against all odds.

Those rescued ranged from those who’d suffered head trauma and other severe wounds from flying debris by Dorian’s 185 mph sustained winds battering the island nation, Capt. Joseph McGilley, commander of Coast Guard Air Station St. Petersburg (Fla.) told the Daily News.

There were people crushed by cars, and one man whose arm was amputated by flying debris, he said.

“The best description it looks like it was bombed out, like the images from the tidal wave in Japan or some of the tsunamis,” McGilley told The News. “Anything that was not concrete and steel was pretty much knocked down. It looked like a garbage dump was how it was described to me. Everything was destroyed and in giant piles as the water receded.”

Coast Guard pilots also transported people from hospitals who weren’t in immediate crisis, but were in danger because of lack of access to basic medical needs, he said.

McGilley, 50, a 24-year veteran, commanded a team of seven helicopters as part of the Coast Guard’s overall effort to help in the aftermath of the storm.

“The first couple of crews in there, they have all done challenging flying, but they said this was the most challenging weather they have seen, with blinding rain and 45-90 mph winds," he told The News.

The slow moving storm hovered over the Bahamas for about a day and a half, effectively cutting it off. “Dorian was blocking any aid coming from anywhere north of Miami for that day and a half period,” he said.

But the Coast Guard had resources there already for a counter-narcotics operation and the search-and-rescue helicopters were able to patrol along the edges of the storm, looking for people. “We surged in as close as we could get,” he said. “The storm was walking one mile an hour and we would push in further and further as much as we could.”

“Helicopters were the only way to do it,” he added. “We weren’t sure if the runways could support the weight. And some of the runaways covered in sand , so the only way to access it was by helicopter.”

More than 1,381 requests for assistance have come in to the Guard’s search and rescue units from the island country. “We have to triage them to get to the most in need. A lot aren’t necessarily urgent rescue, just people wanting to get out of there," McGilley said.

They also brought a doctor and four corpsmen to help with medical care on the ground. Since resources have poured in from several countries, including the U.S., the search-and-rescue mission is tapering off, he said.

With 50 deaths officially declared, thousands are still missing, officials have said.