September 6, 2019 / 9:13 PM / a month ago

After Hurricane Dorian, families turn to technology in search for the missing

(Reuters) - As Hurricane Dorian left thousands missing in the Bahamas, South Carolina resident Daniel Huggins worried frantically about his mother on Green Turtle Cay and, with no word from U.S. or Bahamas authorities, turned to Facebook for news.

Residents and visitors catch a flight from the island devastated by Hurricane Dorian at the airport in Treasure Cay, Abaco, Bahamas, September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Aleksandra Michalska

“That was really all that we could do,” Huggins, a 31-year-old commercial driver, said.

His anxious scramble is being repeated by the friends and relatives of Bahamians not heard from since the hurricane blasted ashore on Sunday, killing at least 30 people and flattening buildings on Grand Bahama Island and the Abaco Islands.

Finding little information through official channels, relatives are getting resourceful and turning to technology including social media, improvised websites, borrowed GPS devices and satellite phones.

Huggins posted in Facebook groups about his mother, Mary Anne Huggins, on Green Turtle Cay, a small barrier island with about 450 residents. Two days later, his mother reached him with a cryptic message from a Global Positioning System to his cell phone. She later called him on a satellite phone but lost the signal after 15 seconds.

“She almost sounded hysterical just because of how excited she was to hear from me, and she said, ‘Hey, I’m safe,’” said Huggins. “I just want to wrap my arms around her, but it feels really good to have heard her voice.”

Immediately after the hurricane struck, people asked about family members on existing Facebook community pages. Nassau-based real estate agent Vanessa Pritchard-Ansell started a group on Sunday specifically for finding relatives.

But the scope of the disaster soon overwhelmed the page, and Pritchard-Ansell worked with others to create a website where people have shared more than 6,000 names of missing people. It is still far from complete.

‘ADRENALINE AND A SENSE OF URGENCY’

The death toll from Dorian stood at 30 on Friday, officials said. As thousands remain missing, the final toll is feared to be much higher.

“There are so many people unaccounted for and so many

lives lost,” said Simeka Williams, 22, who left Freeport days before the storm to start medical school in Jamaica.

Unable to reach many of her family, Williams and other people compiled a database of several thousand missing individuals on Grand Bahamas, and she has been coordinating with the U.S. Coast Guard to confirm those who are found.

She has not had news of her relatives but is trying to stay hopeful. “I’m just clinging onto the fact that I’m helping and that we’ll be reunited soon,” she said.

“Adrenaline and a sense of urgency is what is keeping me going. I haven’t actually had the time to sit down and process the magnitude of loss.”

Reporting by Matthew Lavietes in New York and Rebekah F. Ward in Mexico City; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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