WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – As rescue crews continue to search for and evacuate people from the ruined islands of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama, relatives and friends are desperately trying to find loved ones in the Bahamas amid the chaos of recovery following Hurricane Dorian.
The access to the violent northern islands, which caused severe catastrophic damage, has been limited. Search and rescue crews, including the US Coast Guard and the British Royal Navy, were on the islands Wednesday trying to find survivors.
But in the midst of communication lapses and widespread decimation, news of individuals is slow to arrive and difficult to find thousands of people have taken to social media to track down relatives.
One site – DorianPeopleSearch.com – began trying to help Sunday night, in the midst of the storm, when a real estate agent in Nassau said she saw a growing need even while the hurricane still hit the islands. Vanessa Pritchard-Ansell said that Facebook groups of concerned people had become so numerous and unmanageable that it made it difficult to find names of the missing. A Google Docs spreadsheet had grown to 40 pages and was difficult to navigate, she said.
"Each of these Facebook pages had a purpose, people asking for information about their loved ones," Pritchard-Ansell said. "My concern was that the purpose would go astray."
By Wednesday, friends and family members had posted the names of more than 5,500 people on the Pritchard-Ansell website. She said she is working with the US and Canadian embassies to tick off names with residents of these countries.
She has an international team of volunteers helping.
"I know this kind of thing has been done before," she said. "A guy from Spain reached out to me, and he had done something like that for another hurricane, so it all came together."
The Bahamian government created a form of people to complete that asks detailed questions. DorianPeopleSearch is deprived and basic: the name of the missing person, the city where they are believed to be before the storm, and their status – known or, in the vast majority of the 5,577 names, unknown. The names are listed in alphabetical order.
If there is a critical need for evacuation, it is also noted by who is posting the name. And some names are linked to Facebook groups.
A woman was listed as "last seen – Murphy Town by Change Ministries Church – needs insulin."
"There have been people on dialysis; there was a woman at work," said Pritchard-Ansell. "Another woman who had a 5-week-old baby."
Only a few missing on the site are in the category " status: known. "
" When you see that someone has been found and their family knows where they are, you feel a moment of exhilaration, "she said." But you also know that there are so many thousands of others who are not accounted for. "
There may be little solace for hectic loved ones, but the number of people reported missing in the first few hours after a hurricane typically goes down dramatically in subsequent days, when power and communication are restored and people can more easily Finding each other and using cell phones and the Internet to reconnect The Bahamian government has so far listed 20 recorded deaths as a result of Hurricane Dorian, but they warn that the number is likely to increase as authorities reach decimated areas of the islands. [1 9659018] The Aftermath of Great Abaco (Scott Olson / Getty Images)
There are approximately 70,000 people living in the Abaco Islands and the Grand Bahama combined. It is unclear how many were able to evacuate particularly vulnerable areas, such as Mudd, a low-lying shantytown in Marsh Harbor that authorities said was decimated.
U.S. and British rescuers are helping the Bahamian government search for survivors, many of whom will be taken to safer places in the southern islands. Pritchard-Ansell also collaborates with Trans Island Airways to get names of people they evacuate.
TIA operations manager James Ingraham said search and rescue operations have been difficult because of the devastation – Freeport airport was destroyed. It is a challenge to get information about where people are – and whether they are stranded –
"Our priority is to get people to safety," Ingraham said. “But it's nice to let family members know that their loved ones survived, to give them some security. It is important. "
Pritchard-Ansell said her family was safe in Nassau:" We barely got a surface scratching here. "But she said she knew even before Dorian left the islands – and it took 48 hours before it finally passed – there would be a great need for information about those in hard-hit areas.
She said that a simple, easy-to-use website seemed the best, just to give names and hometowns.
"In the islands, the degree of separation is really quite small," she said. "Everyone knows everyone or is a friend of a friend."
Concerned people in the United States use the site as well. Jeff Williams, 26, lives in Broward County, Florida, and has been searching for news of his fiance, Deneze Bootle, 20, for several days.
"I've been to Instagram, I tried to join Facebook groups, but it's been so long since I've used it that I forgot my password," Williams said. "I just look up every little database and Google Doc and what I can find to get news about her. I check every hour and try to call the embassy. I haven't heard anything yet."
Bootle is listed on DorianPeopleSearch like being in Murphy Town, Abaco, where her family lives. Abaco became one of the areas hardest hit by Dorian.
"I talked to her on Saturday. We talked about just ordinary things that made each other laugh "She told me she wanted to charge her phone before the hurricane. Next thing you know, the hurricane hits and just sits on top of the island. Then the pictures started coming in, and I started crying."  He said Bootle had recently graduated from Bahamas University in Nassau and was visiting the family at home, and Williams said he bought an engagement ring but had not yet officially proposed.
"Deneze is my soulmate." “And now I don't know what to do I keep checking, hoping to find her. And I keep on praying and crying, hoping that those tears will bring her back. ”
Rozsa is a freelance journalist based in Florida.