Jeanne hits Dominican Republic, threatens to regain hurricane strength before Bahamas

Thursday, September 16th 2004, 9:17 am
By: News On 6

SAMANA, Dominican Republic (AP) _ Tropical Storm Jeanne, a slow-moving system loaded with torrential rains and deadly wind gusts, hovered over the Dominican Republic on Friday, tearing off roofs and triggering mudslides. At least six people in its path were killed.

Jeanne lost speed as it drenched the Dominican Republic but was threatening to regain hurricane strength as it headed toward the Bahamas, on a track for the southeastern United States, where it could hit anywhere from Florida to the Carolinas.

``People need to monitor it very carefully,'' said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

After punishing Puerto Rico_ leaving many of the 4 million islanders without electricity and causing two deaths _ the storm forced the evacuation of thousands in the Dominican Republic as it slammed into the country's eastern tip Thursday as a hurricane, with winds of 80 mph. It raked across the northern coast, losing strength but causing extensive damage.

Its winds dropped to 50 mph as it moved away from the Dominican Republic on Friday afternoon, leaving behind heavy flooding. Thousands of people were stranded on rooftops of submerged homes in San Pedro de Macoris, where the River Soco burst its banks. Emergency official Juan Luis German said authorities were sending helicopters to rescue people in the fishing town, better known as the birthplace of baseball star Sammy Sosa.

In Samana, a north-coast Dominican town popular with European tourists where the storm stalled for some 10 hours overnight, residents emerged Friday to find homes destroyed, roads blocked by tangles of power lines, trees torn out by their roots.

Elizabeth Javier, 12, appeared lost as she stood where her family's living room used to be. The storm had blown off one wall and the entire roof and flung chairs, clothes and cooking utensils across the yard.

She said her mother had gone to find help. ``I've seen strong storms but never like this,'' she said.

Earlier, some Samana residents had ventured out from their shelters into the calm of the storm's eye, thinking Jeanne had passed, only to be battered by hurricane-force gusts driving horizontal sheets of rain.

The storm slammed one man riding a motorcycle into a telephone pole, killing him instantly, Dr. Jacqueline Alvarez said at the hospital of Samana, about 60 miles northeast of the capital, Santo Domingo.

Jeanne's rains soaked Santo Domingo, where a 4-month-old baby died when a landslide crushed part of her family's house, said Jose Luis German, spokesman for the country's National Emergency Committee.

Two other people were killed Friday in El Seybo, 80 miles northeast of Santo Domingo _ a man crushed by a falling palm tree and another who died of a heart attack because the storm prevented relatives getting him to a hospital, German said.

At least 12 other people were injured as trees crashed down and floods struck parts of the east and northeast, officials said. Crashing waves pounded the north coast.

``Last night communications went down so we have no idea if people tried to call for help,'' Alvarez said, fearing a higher toll.

Electricity also was out. And airlines canceled flights.

At 2 p.m., Jeanne was centered just north of the Haiti-Dominican border, about 95 miles south-southwest of Grand Turk island. It was moving slowly west-northwestward near 8 mph.

A hurricane warning was posted for the southeastern Bahamas and the British Turks and Caicos Islands, and a watch for the central Bahamas _ an area still recovering from Hurricane Frances. Haiti's north coast was under a storm warning.

Jeanne raged across Puerto Rico on Wednesday, dumping up to two feet of rain on the U.S. territory, flooding hundreds of homes, snapping trees and downing power lines.

``It left a wake of destruction that we now have to face,'' Puerto Rican Gov. Sila Calderon said Thursday. She asked President Bush to declare a disaster to speed the release of federal aid.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, debris littered streets and some residents shoveled mud from homes. Two prisoners escaped from a St. Croix jail during the storm, though it was unclear how, police said.

Heavy rains continued to soak parts of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, threatening flash floods and mudslides. Landslides have caused a large amount of damage to the exotic vegetation in the Caribbean National Forest, a rain forest known as ``El Yunque,'' supervisor Pabo Cruz said.

Most of the 4 million residents of Puerto Rico were without power and some 600,000 without running water.

One Puerto Rican woman was killed Wednesday when winds flung her from a hammock and smashed her into a neighbor's house, and a man putting up storm shutters died when he fell from a roof, police said.

Jeanne brewed in the Caribbean at the same time as Hurricane Ivan, leaving at least 70 dead across the Caribbean before slamming into the U.S. Gulf Coast Thursday.