ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
After spending days battering the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian has finally slowly moved on. At least 20 people there were killed by the storm, and now it is moving up the Atlantic Ocean along the East Coast.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
We will have more from Jacksonville, Fla., in a moment. But first, we're joined by Vice Admiral Scott Buschman of the U.S. Coast Guard. He oversees Coast Guard operations in the Atlantic.
SCOTT BUSCHMAN: Thank you very much for having me.
KELLY: The Coast Guard's been involved in trying to airlift some people to safety. Is that right?
BUSCHMAN: That's correct. We have been flying in the Bahamas. We're on our third day. And I will tell you that we've been planning for this storm for a couple of weeks now to get ready for this storm. We knew it was going to be significant in the Bahamas. We actually keep three helicopters in the Bahamas as part of a long-standing operation between the U.S. Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement is based in the Bahamian government.
KELLY: Yeah, I was going to ask you for people trying to wrap their heads around why the Coast Guard is involved in rescuing people in the Bahamas. This is a long-standing international arrangement.
BUSCHMAN: We have a long-standing relation to them on law enforcement, on maritime search and rescue and a whole host of other things. Bahamas is only about 45 miles from the coast of the United States.
KELLY: Yeah. So give me a sense of the scale of Coast Guard operations there in terms of how many aircraft, how many ships you've been able to get in.
BUSCHMAN: We medically evacuated a number of people Monday. We flew again yesterday. Those two days, the flying conditions were not good. Today is the first day that we've had some much better flying conditions.
So right now, we have eight helicopters flying from the Coast Guard, two flying from the DEA, two flying from Customs and Border Protection. We also have a number of fixed-wing aircraft that were doing some aerial reconnaissance to see what the impacted areas look like. And as of today, we actually have three Coast Guard ships there. They're helping out. They're serving as support cutters for our aircraft so the aircraft can land there and fuel. And they're doing a number of things. They're sending their boats ashore to do some assessments from land.
KELLY: And how are you getting in and out, because I'm seeing pictures of docks washed away and airports and runways mostly underwater?
BUSCHMAN: Correct. We flew the length of the Abacos, which is one of the two island chains that was most impacted in the Bahamas. Then there are parts of them that are unpopulated. There are parts that are sparsely populated. And there are parts that have towns and villages of a couple thousand people. And the Central Abacos is where they received the most significant damage.
So some of the airports are underwater, and some of the roads are underwater. So when our helicopters fly in and they see someone - assistance - they'll look for a safe place to land wherever they can do that.
KELLY: This is, of course, not your first storm, not your first rescue effort. Can you put it into context? How does it compare to other rescue efforts you've been involved in?
BUSCHMAN: We don't have a full scope of the damage. But the areas I flew over yesterday - and I haven't flown over a lot of storms - I saw, if not the most significant damage and destruction, probably the most significant damage and destruction I've ever seen.
KELLY: Really? I mean, that's quite something to hear you say that. How many years of service do you have?
KELLY: And this is the worst you've seen?
BUSCHMAN: One thing that's different is I've seen some wider areas. In other words, this is, you know, 70,000 people impacted, whereas, you know, a place like Puerto Rico has 3 1/2 million for Maria. So it's a little hard to compare. You know, among the worst I've ever seen, for sure.
KELLY: Admiral, thank you.
BUSCHMAN: Thank you very much.
KELLY: That's Vice Admiral Scott Buschman of the U.S. Coast Guard. We appreciate your time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.