Tropical Storm Noel Drenches Bahamas

Thursday, November 1st 2007, 7:20 am
By: News On 6

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) _ Rescuers rushed in helicopters and boats Thursday to reach people stranded by floods and mudslides from Tropical Storm Noel, which left at least 91 people dead in the Dominican Republic and neighboring Haiti.

Hundreds of volunteers joined the Dominican civil defense force to help stranded residents. Many rescue teams left in boats loaned by private owners.

``We'll try to reach places where we don't know what's happened because we haven't had access since Monday,'' legislator Sergio Vargas of the Dominican Republic, told The Associated Press. At least 52 communities were cut off because of widespread flooding and landslides.

Rescuers in Hispaniola _ the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti _ found a rising toll of death and damage from three days of rain _ at least 56 dead in the Dominican Republic and 34 in Haiti, where the majority of bodies were found in the area of Port-au-Prince. One person was killed in Jamaica.

In the Bahamas, flooding overnight forced some people to evacuate their homes on Long Island, in the southeastern part of the archipelago, said Carl Smith, director of the National Emergency Management Agency. He said there were no reports of injury or death. By Thursday morning, Noel had already dumped nearly 5 inches of rain on the capital, Nassau.

Rough surf warnings were in effect for much of South Florida. Waves were pounding beaches in the Miami area, and residents of a waterfront condominium in South Palm Beach were urged to evacuate after pounding surf destroyed a retaining wall damaged this month in another storm.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami on Thursday issued a tropical storm warning for the southeastern Florida coast from Ocean Reef to Deerfield Beach. A tropical storm watch was in effect from north of Deerfield Beach to Jupiter Inlet. A warning means tropical storm conditions are expected within 24 hours, while a watch means such conditions are possible within that area.

Dominican President Leonel Fernandez declared a state of emergency for the next 30 days and asked for international help, especially rescue teams and helicopters. He ordered residents in 36 communities to evacuate because they were in potential flood zones.

At least 58,300 Dominicans fled their homes, some 14,500 of which were damaged, said Luis Antonio Luna, head of the Emergencies Commission.

More than three days of heavy rain caused an estimated $30 million in damages to the Dominican Republic's rice, plantain and cacao plantations, said Minister of Economy Juan Temistocles Montas. The government will request two loans worth $100 million each from the Inter-American Development Bank to help ravaged areas recover.

In Haiti, civil protection crews confirmed 10 more deaths overnight, raising Haiti's toll to 34, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, the department's director.

Most of the deaths occurred in flood-drenched areas around the capital, Port-au-Prince, raising fears that the total could climb even higher as authorities reach remote towns in the Haitian countryside.

Noel is the deadliest storm in this part of the Caribbean since Tropical Storm Jeanne hit Haiti in 2004, triggering floods and mudslides that killed an estimated 3,000 people.

For the Atlantic region as a whole, Noel is the second deadliest of the 2007 season. Hurricane Felix, a monster Category 5 storm, killed at least 101 people in early September, mostly along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and Honduras.

At 8 a.m. EDT, Noel's center was about 110 miles southwest of Nassau, Bahamas, and about 175 miles southeast of Miami. The storm was moving toward the north at 6 mph, but was expected to eventually turn northeast away from Florida. It had top sustained winds near 60 mph, with stronger gusts, forecasters said.