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Responders On Grand Bahama Field Frantic Calls For Help As Dorian Hits

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are joined now by Don Cornish. He is the disaster manager for Grand Bahama. And he joins us from an emergency call center in Freeport, the capital of Grand Bahama. Mr. Cornish, thank you for taking the time on what is an incredibly busy day for you. Can you just describe the kinds of phone calls that you are taking in right now?

DON CORNISH: We're getting a lot of frantic people calling in about flooding issues. And they're very concerned because of the storm surge, how it's affecting their homes. In fact, we have had persons who are trying to get out in these conditions because they're desperate because of the level the water has come in their homes.

MARTIN: It's obviously very dangerous to go outside, but can you just give us a sense of what it looks like, what it sounds like?

CORNISH: (Laughter). Like a freight train is passing. And the winds are picking up. Obviously, there's going to be flying debris. And the rain is also getting more intense. So it's not a great time to be outdoors. We probably have wind gusts in the region of about 40 miles per hour or higher.

MARTIN: You are - we've seen wind speeds upwards of 180 miles per hour through the Caribbean. This is supposed to be the worst storm to ever hit the Caribbean in modern history. You all are used to hurricanes, but can you talk about how you prepared differently because of the historic nature of this storm?

CORNISH: Well, basically our preparation is always the same, simply because we are fully aware that a storm can have gusts in excess of 200 miles per hour, no matter how the sustained winds are. So we went about our normal preparation, and we also have a search and rescue, urban as well as at sea, standing by, knowing that their challenge is being on the coastal - being a coastal country and, of course, an island, in this case. So we've been doing what we have to do, preparing by training all of our shelter managers, all of our first responders, professionals in various aspects of the planning as well as the recovery period afterwards. So all systems will go in terms of our systems we've activated fully, and everybody's standing by basically waiting for the moment for them to execute the various aspects of their responsibility.

MARTIN: You are the disaster manager. It is your job to remain calm, and you sound that way in this moment. But can you just give us a sense of the emotional tenor of the room that you're in, all these people fielding all these phone calls from frantic individuals?

CORNISH: It's very difficult. You know, some of the persons answering the phone have indicated how they feel, you know, and it's quite difficult for them to hear frantic cries for help as well as persons who are panicking for various reasons. So it takes a toll on you. And at the end of the day, you know, we do have persons who are professionals who provide counseling and other services, psychological support, 'cause that's going to be important, especially considering what we expect to be a very difficult hurricane that will disrupt very much the quality of life of many, many persons, including some of the persons sitting in this room.

MARTIN: Don Cornish. He is the disaster manager for Grand Bahama. He spoke to us on the line from Freeport, the capital. Thank you so much, and stay safe.

CORNISH: Thank you, and thanks for calling. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.