Dominican floods claim at least 363, hundreds missing

Dominican soldiers searched for more flood victims on Wednesday, burying corpses quickly and explaining to families that not all bodies could wait to be identified. At least 363 were dead and hundreds were still missing.

Using dogs and shovels, about 100 soldiers arrived in the morning to help look for remaining victims. Families in the border town were given forms asking them to list missing family members.

“The victims we find will be buried where they are,” said Eddy Olivares with the Dominican Republic’s Civil Defence.
He said many corpses were in an advanced state of decomposition and could not be moved.

Trucks dumped more than 100 bodies into a mass grave on Tuesday outside of Jimani, a town of about 10 000 on the Haitian border, and largely populated by Haitian migrants. Sobbing families, meanwhile, waited for the tiny caskets of their children to be buried in cemeteries.

Heavy rains caused the Solie River in the border town of Jimani to burst its banks, sweeping away wooden shacks in three neighbourhoods of Jimani. Many residents were asleep when the torrent of mud swept through the town before daybreak on Monday.

“We can’t find her anywhere,” cried Norma Cuevas (32) as she desperately searched for her 63-year-old mother among dozens of other families reaching their hands through mud on Tuesday.

An Associated Press reporter counted at least 180 bodies on the Dominican side of Hispaniola island by Tuesday afternoon. Officials said another 100 or so had been dumped in a mass grave, according to Lieutenant Virgilio Mejia, with the Dominican National Rescue Commission.

Haiti’s Interior Ministry said there were 83 confirmed deaths on the Haitian side but the toll was steadily rising as rescue workers and family members continued to pull corpses from the mud. More than 250 were unaccounted for in the Dominican Republic and 62 were missing in Haiti, mostly in the town of Fond Verrette, near Jimani.

“I’ve looked at the bodies in the morgue and couldn’t recognise any of them,” said Jude Joseph (30), who came from Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince to sell rice at a border market and visit family members in Bobmita, La Cuarenta and Barrio El Tanque, neighbourhoods that vanished.

More than 100 troops from the United States-led multinational force in Haiti flew to the Haitian town of Fond Verrette, ferrying bottled water, medical supplies and food, according to US Marines Lieutenant Colonel Dave Lapan, a spokesperson for the multinational force. Troops were expected to return on Wednesday to coordinate efforts with aid agencies.

Although one body had been recovered in Fond Verrette, Haitian officials said nearly 60 people were missing in the town and many were feared dead, Lapan said.

The US-led 3 600-member multinational task force was sent to stabilise Haiti when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted during a three-week rebellion on February 29. The force is to be replaced by a United Nations force, which will begin arriving on June 1.

“I found them this morning,” said Shela Lena (24), who lost her sister-in-law and three-year-old nephew on Tuesday. She came from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to work as a maid.

About 10km outside of Jimani, emergency workers in surgical masks and white gloves watched as trucks dumped scored of corpses into a 5m ditch. No relatives were present at the grave for the burials.

Some on the Dominican side were believed to be Haitian workers living there illegally and afraid to claim the bodies of family members, officials said.

The Dominican government had issued an alert on Sunday, warning people that rivers may swell with the rains. But Jimani—more than 161km west of the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo—has only limited access to radio broadcasts.

People whose houses still stood on Tuesday scooped water from their living rooms. Chairs and mattresses floated in deep pools of water as dark clouds threatened more rain. Hundreds of houses had been destroyed on both sides of the border.

As rescue workers and families pulled bodies from the mud, medical teams draped work areas with mosquito netting. The insects can carry parasites that cause malaria and dengue fever. Some people were also being given tetanus shots.

Many roads in both countries were still impassable.

Elena Diaz (42) who lost her daughter in the floods, sobbed as she waited in a long line outside the morgue where she went to look for her son-in-law and three grandchildren.

“They found my daughter. Now I have to see if I have some family left,” she said.

The floods were some of the deadliest in a decade.

In 1994, Tropical Storm Gordon caused mudslides that buried at least 829 Haitians. More recently, nearly 30 people died in September during floods caused by heavy rain in St Marc, about 73km northwest of Port-au-Prince.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press writers Amy Bracken in Haiti and Jose P Monegro in Santo Domingo contributed to this report.

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