Three men were walking through the tattered neighborhood known as the Mudd in the Abaco Islands on Tuesday morning when they came upon the remnants of a home with the symbol of a diamond spray-painted on a wall left standing. A single letter D was painted in the center.
D for deceased.
Next to it were two arrows, indicating the presence of two dead bodies stuck in the mountainous debris.
More than a week after Hurricane Dorian flattened the shantytown into massive piles of wood and steel, the search and rescue effort has shifted to recovering the remains of those killed by the catastrophic Category 5 storm.
“In this location we have not found any rescues. It has been all recoveries,” said Rutledge Rogers, a technical search specialist and firefighter with the fire department of Gainesville, Florida, who was assisting with recovery efforts. “All the intelligence that we’ve been getting is that this is the area that did get hit the hardest.”
The number of confirmed dead rose to 50 on Monday, with 42 of those deaths occurring in the Abaco Islands, but fears remained that the number would continue to rise as search crews dug their way deeper into the wreckage.
About 2,500 people were registered as missing as of Wednesday afternoon, although that list has yet to be checked against government records of those who were in shelters or were evacuated, according to Bahamian officials.
One website, Dorian People Search Bahamas, listed nearly 4,550 of the more than 11,000 people on its site as status unknown as of Wednesday.
About 3,500 people have been evacuated from the Abaco Islands, the National Emergency Agency of the Bahamas said earlier this week.
Search crews were continuing to work their way through the Mudd on Tuesday — once home to many Haitian immigrants — marking areas and homes as being cleared, containing a possible victim or as containing a dead body.
“The first day we found four, five, the next day we ended up taking out six, just us,” Rogers said, adding that the day before another team had recovered three bodies from the Mudd. The average since recovery efforts began has been about three a day in that area alone, he said.
On Tuesday, Rogers was joined by Jose Paredes and Chad Belger on the recovery operation to search for remains. A Canadian team was also deployed with them, using two search dogs to continue mapping out the recovery area.
Amid the grim walk through the Mudd there were signs of the people who lived there before Hurricane Dorian hit: a single pink flip-flop, a purple toothbrush, a red polo shirt still on a hanger, a green and blue tie.
Occasionally, life still stirred in the Mudd. There was a black-and-brown-splotched kitten, and two dogs chained to a home barked at the recovery team.
But Dorian left the neighborhood unrecognizable. Splintered wooden frames with long nails jutting out in every direction were piled at least six feet high or more in some areas. Giant steel shipping containers were blown in from the main road, crushing cars or lying amid the debris of collapsed houses. Flipped cars and refrigerators lined a dirt path.
It was within one of these destroyed homes that the recovery crew came upon the bodies of a woman and a man.
They found the woman first, a sliver of faded black pants and a boot visible underneath rubble. The unmistakable smell of death filled the air as they carefully removed the debris from on top of her.
The team covered the body and placed it in plastic wrap before carrying it, stopping about every 10 steps or so to take a break in the stifling heat before beginning again.
Eventually, they made their way to a makeshift wooden stretcher made of pieces of plywood from the debris, appearing almost like a funeral procession making their way through the destruction as they made their way to their base.
After a short break, they returned for the second body, buried underneath so much debris they brought a chainsaw to cut through it.
The men worked through thick slabs of wood that could have been the walls or roof of the destroyed house until they were able to recover the man’s remains.
They then began their procession again. This time, three men looked on in silence
One of them, Kenson Accius, said the man they were carrying had been a best friend of his, who died alongside his wife and 2-year-old child in his home during the hurricane.
“He was a good guy, very good guy,” he said.
“Sunday I look for him. Monday I go back to his house, I go to the back of his house. He dead. I started crying,” he said.
Accius, who lives in a nearby area known as Pigeon Peas that was also home to many Haitian immigrants, said he was home when the hurricane hit and his windows broke and high waters began to pour in. He grabbed his 2-month-old son and swim to a nearby church.
“I saved his life. He’s my son,” he said.
His wife also survived the storm and they have been trying to piece back the lives they had before Dorian.
On Tuesday, Accius gestured to the watermark on the walls of his home that reached the ceiling. His home stood empty except for a few supplies and a refrigerator — everything else swept away by the water that poured in.
Still, the family planned to stay in Pigeon Peas in hopes of finding work and beginning the slow process of rebuilding.
He grew emotional talking about the memories of his friend.
“I can’t eat. I can’t sleep,” he said, describing the moments they shared together. “Now, he left me.”