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'I know what death smells like': Bahamas struggles to cope with bodies after hurricane

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Hundreds, if not thousands, are believed to be missing in the Bahamas after the country was hit by the most powerful hurricane in its recorded history.

The death toll from Hurricane Dorian is expected to rise dramatically as relief workers sift through the debris of shattered homes and buildings on Great Abaco Island in the northern Bahamas.

The most powerful hurricane to ever hit the Bahamas swept through the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island earlier this week, levelling entire neighbourhoods and knocking out key infrastructure, including airport landing strips and a hospital.

Residents an area destroyed by Hurricane Dorian ask for food and water from rescue volunteers in Marsh Harbor, Abaco Island, Bahamas.
Residents an area destroyed by Hurricane Dorian ask for food and water from rescue volunteers in Marsh Harbor, Abaco Island, Bahamas.
AP

Hundreds, if not thousands, are still missing in the country of about 400,000 people.

Officials say the death toll, which stands at 30, is likely to shoot up as more bodies are discovered in the ruins and floodwaters left behind by the storm.

"You smell the decomposing bodies as you walk through Marsh Harbour," 37-year-old Sandra Sweeting said in an interview 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."

Some locals called the government's initial official death toll a tragic underestimate.

"I work part-time in a funeral home. I know what death smells like," 27-year-old Anthony Thompson said.

"There must be hundreds. Hundreds."

Chaotic conditions around the islands were interfering with flights and boats, hampering relief efforts.

A boat sits grounded in the aftermath of Hurricane Doria.
A boat sits grounded in the aftermath of Hurricane Doria.
AP

The medical chief of staff of the Bahamas' only functioning public hospital said the death toll would be "staggering".

Two refrigerated, 12-metre trucks would be needed to hold the bodies that were expected to be found, Dr Caroline Burnett-Garraway said in an interview at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, the country's capital.

"We've ordered lots of body bags," she said, adding that processing all the dead will take weeks.

Those injured by the storm, which was a Category 5 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity, were being treated for fractures, head injuries, deep lacerations, skin rashes and dehydration.

Survivors are also dealing with the emotional trauma triggered by the horrors of the preceding days.

Near an area called The Mudd at Marsh Harbour, the commercial hub of Great Abaco, a Reuters photographer described a devastating scene, with most houses levelled, a man lying dead near the main street and dead dogs in water.

Some residents were leaving the area with meagre possessions, while others were determined to remain.

Aubynette Rolle of the Bahamas Public Hospitals Authority said medical facilities in Grand Bahama, the Abacos and Nassau were "coping, so far" with the injured.

Destruction from Hurricane Dorian in an area called
Destruction from Hurricane Dorian in an area called "The Mud" at Marsh Harbour in Great Abaco Island, Bahamas.
AAP

Rolle said urgent care was being provided on the hurricane-hit islands while makeshift clinics were dealing with non-urgent casualties.

A triage system has been set up at a Nassau airport to direct more critical patients to Princess Margaret Hospital.

Shelter material for hundreds of people as well as hygiene kits including basic items like soap were unloaded from the British ship RFA Mounts Bay and distributed in Marsh Harbour, the United Kingdom's Department for International Development said on Friday.

British forces are also distributing water from supplies aboard the ship, which has a system to turn seawater into drinking water.

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