The death toll from Hurricane Dorian's devastating rampage across the Bahamas rose to 43 Friday, a number authorities said is likely to climb "significantly," even as rescuers plucked desperate survivors from the debris.
More than 260 residents of brutally damaged Abaco Island arrived in the capital city of Nassau after spending more than seven hours on a government-chartered ferry, a second of which was expected to arrive overnight.
Those who made it to safety awaited news of loved ones such as Diane Forbes, who had not heard from her two sons since Tuesday and was searching for them among some 200 evacuees sheltering at a gymnasium Friday night in Nassau, which was spared the wrath of the hurricane.
"They said they were hungry and the scent of the bodies, the dead, was really getting to them... I don't know if my son is alive or not," she said of one of her children, who had been in Marsh Harbour on Abaco with his girlfriend and her mother.
Health Minister Duane Sands confirmed the new death toll of 43, up from 30, according to US network CNN and Bahamas newspaper The Tribune.
"Forty-three is the official count, many missing and this number is expected to grow significantly," Erica Wells Cox, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, told NBC News.
The Bahamian government did not immediately respond when contacted by AFP.
Of the eventual death toll, Sands had declared previously that "the number will be staggering."
"Literally hundreds, up to thousands, of people are still missing," Joy Jibrilu, the director general of the Bahamian tourism and aviation ministry, told CNN.
Thousands of people were left homeless on the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco and many were becoming frustrated with the speed of relief and evacuation efforts.
"There's no gas station, no food stores, my job is gone" said Melanie Lowe of Marsh Harbour, whose house was partially destroyed and had packed into a two-bedroom apartment with 16 people before arriving in Nassau.
According to UN relief officials, more than 70,000 people -- virtually the entire population of Grand Bahama and Abaco -- are in need of assistance after the storm reduced homes to matchsticks and destroyed people's livelihoods.
The US Coast Guard and private organizations have been evacuating residents of Abaco and other islands to Nassau.
The multinational relief effort, which also includes Britain's Royal Navy and several non-governmental organizations, has been hampered by flood damage to airport runways, destroyed piers and docks and downed communications.
Tents and awnings installed at Nassau Airport, not far from rescue planes taking off and landing, provided temporary housing for storm-battered Bahamians.