Dames says Sands comments were “disingenuous” and “misleading”
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — National Security minister Marvin Dames yesterday said the number of missing people in the wake of Hurricane Dorian currently stands at 279.
The latest confirmation comes three weeks after a senior police officer advised the public that only 33 people had been reported missing.
Dames’ statement was in response to criticisms leveled by former Health minister and Elizabeth MP Duane Sands in Parliament last week.
On Thursday, Sands admitted that the government mishandled the identification of those missing and killed during the Category 5 storm in early September.
Sands acknowledged that no explanation has been given on how hundreds of names were excluded from an early list of people reported missing – noting responsibility was spread over multiple ministries and government agencies.
Dames said he was shocked and “profoundly disappointed” by Sands’ contribution, which he called “disingenuous” and “misleading”.
He sought to clarify how the list was being managed under his ministry – the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
Dames said from the onset, individuals in search of missing relatives were making reports to multiple agencies and NGOs.
“The police immediately went to work to compile a centralized list which totaled 1,092 people from both Grand Bahama and Abaco,” he explained.
“Of the total, 34 were from Grand Bahama and 1,058 were from Abaco.
“After the police took receipt of the initial list and began their reconciliation work, they discovered that the list consisted not only of missing persons but also persons in need of housing assistance, persons reporting other crimes, persons who were displaced, and duplication of names.
“The number of persons falling within these categories totaled 813.
“The police missing persons list currently stands at 279.”
In October, Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell advised Parliament that records from his ministry indicated a total missing count of 1,208 – 1,003 in Abaco and 205 in Grand Bahama.
However, Dames advised at the time that police only had reports of 282 people still missing from the storm – and that the matter was under the purview of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
At a press conference staged by the Disaster Reconstruction Authority last month, police said of the 33 people reported missing, authorities received 21 DNA samples from relatives.
Commissioner of Police Paul Rolle did not want to comment on the matter when asked about on Saturday.
In his statement yesterday, Dames said the numbers are expected to fluctuate as the reconciliation process continues.
The national security minister pointed to Hurricane Katrina which destroyed parts of the United States in 2005, noting that even 14 years later officials are still trying to determine the accurate number of missing persons.
“At no time was any attempt made by the police or anyone else to delete any names off the list without first performing due diligence,” Dames continued.
“If the former minister or anyone else has information to prove otherwise the ministry request that it be made public for all to see.
“…The Ministry of National Security has sought to be truthful and as thorough as possible in accounting for the death toll.”
Last week, Sands called for a coroner’s inquest into the handling of the issue.
“I fear that we have not sufficiently elevated this matter as a national priority,” he said.
But Dames chastised Sands for the comments, calling them surprising given that as the Minister of Health he played a “leading role” in the government’s Hurricane Dorian’s response and restoration.
“He was afforded every opportunity to voice his concerns about the process and offer solutions to improve it,” he said.
“In light of the aforesaid, the ministry finds the former Minister’s most recent comments disingenuous.
“His comments malign the good name and reputation of the hard-working men and women in uniform, who continue to this day to make sacrifices to help those families affected by Dorian.”
The national security minister pointed to a September 8, 2019 interview Sands did with the Miami Herald calling information suggestion of a cover-up over the number of missing and dead “false” and “unfortunate”.
“His recent comments are misleading, and whether intentionally or unintentionally, impinge the good standing efforts of our nation in the eyes of the international community and to reopen up old wounds of a people whose lives have been shattered as a result of this tragedy.”