(CNN) — The number of missing in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian has dropped significantly, to 1,300, providing a bit of rare good news in one of the nastiest storms the archipelago has ever faced.
The government said Wednesday the number of missing stood at about 2,500, but “after cross-referencing databases,” officials revised the tally down to 1,300, National Emergency Management Agency spokesman Carl Smith said Thursday.
The higher number was preliminary, with some names not yet confirmed against government records, Smith had said Wednesday.
Dorian flattened homes after it made landfall September 1, killing at least 50 people, officials said. The death toll is expected to go up as search and rescue crews scour the ruins in Grand Bahama and Abaco islands.
Smith has urged people to continue submitting the names of missing persons through a hotline or visiting the social services office, which is handling the missing people register.
“As we are able to cross-reference our data sets, we will be able to inform family members and reunite survivors with loved ones,” he said.
The hurricane tore through the islands at Category 5 strength, making it the strongest storm ever to make landfall in the Bahamas.
The first sweep this week of hard-hit northern islands — where some 70,000 people have lost almost everything — has been completed, including at least a first check for anyone in need of rescue, food or water and an assessment of damage and sanitation needs, said Daniel Gajewski of Fairfax County, Virginia’s Urban Search and Rescue team.
“Lately it has been a lot of reconnaissance, a lot of building structures, and then from there we’re getting a pulse on the locals,” said Gajewski, who was deployed through the US Agency for International Development, or USAID.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said the government is working to set up temporary housing for those who lost their homes, adding that he visited shelters in New Providence that are providing temporary housing to evacuees from Abaco and Grand Bahama. He warned against recirculating “false information” that was spreading discord in the community.
The Prime Minister announced a September 18 national prayer service to remember those lost to the storm. Flags will be flown at half-staff.
“We are a nation in mourning,” his statement said. “The grief is unbearable following the devastating impact of Hurricane Dorian, which has left behind death, destruction and despair on Grand Bahama and Abaco, our second and third most populous islands.”