(ABC News) — As hundreds of people waited anxiously to be evacuated at the port in Marsh Harbour, a Bahamian island community wrecked by Hurricane Dorian, Senior Lt. William Sturrup of the Royal Bahamian Defense Force pleaded for patience and cooperation.
A cargo ship that just dropped off supplies became a lifeboat for many who lost everything but their lives and were desperate to board the vessel and escape the devastation.
“This boat is here to take you to Nassau,” Sturrup told the crowd of distressed evacuees on Saturday, many holding backpacks and garbage bags stuffed with the few belongings they have left.
The death toll rose to 45 on Sunday, including 37 from Abaco Island and eight from Grand Bahama, according to the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
Bahamian Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands told ABC News on Sunday that it is possible some victims were washed out to sea and may never be found while many other bodies are feared buried in the rubble.
“As there are many more persons presumed missing, since they have not been seen or heard from since the passage of hurricane Dorian, we are appealing to family members to file missing person’s reports with the police,” Anthony Ferguson, commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, said in a statement.
There are about 76,000 people left homeless and in need of assistance in the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island, the U.N. said Friday.
Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis is scheduled to address the nation on Monday night.
On Sunday, Dorian was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone, after lashing the Eastern seaboard of the United States and making landfall one last time nearly 1,600 miles north of the Bahamas in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Dorian slammed Nova Scotia on Saturday night as a Category 2 hurricane, packing torrential rain and maximum sustained winds of 100 mph that stripped roofs off homes, uprooted trees and toppled a large construction crane in Halifax.
The deadly storm struck North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Friday as a Category 1 storm with sustained winds of 90 mph, battering the barrier islands with torrential rain, ferocious winds and dangerous floodwaters.
At least one person, a 66-year-old man, died as he was preparing for the storm, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Saturday at a news conference. The man, who was not named, died after falling off a ladder.
Nowhere was the devastation more evident than in the Bahamas, where evacuations and the search for survivors continued on Sunday.
An estimated 10,000 people in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas were in desperate need of food, water and shelter. Bahamian emergency management officials said food distribution was a “challenge” and deemed drinking water in some areas of the islands unsafe for consumption and hygiene.
As the storm-ravaged masses in the Bahamas, including parents and children, scrambled to board the latest cargo ship to arrive to carry them away from the nightmarish conditions, Lt. Sturrup told ABC News, “It’s the best we can do under the circumstances.”
Rymrih Nairn said she was hoping that she and her three children could squeeze onto the ship, their lifeline out of harm’s way after their neighborhood was obliterated by Dorian.
The hurricane made landfall in the Bahamas last week as a monster Category 5 storm, tying the record for the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever to make landfall.
“I went to Sandy Point to try to get on yesterday, couldn’t get on,” Nairn told ABC News of her efforts to get her and her children evacuated. “I went to the airport. It was too chaotic. I couldn’t get on. So I said, ‘Lord, today has to be the day for me to get on.”
Sturrup later told ABC News that everyone waiting at the port in Marsh Harbour on Saturday was evacuated.
“Every person who wanted to leave did,” Sturrup said.
Marsh Harbour, a town of nearly 6,300 in the Abaco Islands, was decimated when the hurricane made landfall with 183 mph buzz saw-like winds and cut a wide swath of destruction and death.
President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday that Prime Minister Minnis told him there could have been “many more casualties” without help from the United States. The president credited the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, himself and the “brave people of the Bahamas” for pulling together in the cataclysmic aftermath of the hurricane.
The U.S. Coast Guard reported Sunday it had already rescued 290 people in the Bahamas and that six MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters were continuing to carry out search-and-rescue missions that are being supported by nine Coast Guard cutters.
About 1,500 Bahamian were evacuated to Palm Beach, Florida, on the Grand Celebration, a Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line cruise ship.
The hardest-hit area of the Bahamas appeared to be Elbow Cay, a once paradisaical barrier island a short boat ride from Marsh Harbour. In all directions, many homes, including vacation residences of the wealthy, are reduced to splinters and streets are covered in debris from major flooding.
Local resident Frank Knowles told ABC News that he and his family lost their home to Dorian. He said his wife and daughter were able to evacuate on Saturday to the United States to start their post-hurricane life.
Knowles said he is torn between staying to help rebuild or leaving to be with his family.
Elvis Key, a resident of Elbow Cay, said he and his neighbors were frustrated waiting for help from the government. He said they have already started recovery efforts on their own by clearing clogged streets of debris.
The Bahamian government announced Sunday that it is providing resources to ensure safety and security on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama.
As of Saturday, 274 Royal Bahamas Police Force and Royal Bahamas Defense Force officers were on Abaco, officials said. Another 666 officers were sent to Grand Bahama.
Additionally, there are large numbers of security forces from Jamaica, the United States and the United Kingdom helping in search-and-rescue efforts on the islands, officials said.
Ronaldo Newton, another resident of Elbow Cay who stayed behind and rode out the ferocious storm, told ABC News the magnitude of the disaster is just setting in.
“Believe it or not, I’m still actually telling myself, ‘You’re gonna wake up and this was all a dream,” Newton said.