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17 Sep 2004 12:26
Tropical Storm Jeanne crept toward the Bahamas, drenching the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico with rains that killed three people and carved out a path of destruction marked by damaged homes, flooding and toppled trees.
The storm forced the evacuation of thousands on Thursday as it slammed into the Dominican Republic as a hurricane after punishing Puerto Rico with flash floods and deadly winds.
Jeanne made landfall in the Dominican Republic’s eastern tip and then weakened to a tropical storm as it raked the north coast. But forecasters warned that it could strengthen before it reached the southern Bahamas on Friday and headed towards Florida over the weekend.
“People need to monitor it very carefully,” said Max Mayfield, director of the United States National Hurricane Centre in Miami.
Jeanne’s heavy rains soaked the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo, where a four-month-old died when a landslide crushed part of her family’s house, said Jose Luis German, spokesperson for the country’s National Emergency Committee.
At least eight people were injured as trees toppled and floods struck parts of the east and north-east, officials said.
Crashing waves pounded the north coast and winds battered trees.
Telephone service and electricity were out.
“We’re all afraid,” said Julie Acosta (17), helping her father tie down their tin roof with rope as winds and rain intensified around Samana, a coastal town popular with European tourists about 95km north-east of Santo Domingo.
More than 8 200 Dominicans were evacuated and took refuge in shelters set up in schools and churches, officials said.
“I had to come here because at night this becomes scary,” said Mario Vasquez, a 40-year-old farmer crowded with 150 people into a school in blacked-out Samana. “People could die out here.”
Beachside hotels and restaurants closed along the north coast, while authorities ordered boats into port.
Jeanne hit the Dominican Republic with when winds increased to near 130kph, which dropped to 110kph—just 6kph shy of a hurricane.
It was at 110kph when it raged across Puerto Rico on Wednesday, dumping up to 61cm of rain on the US 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 Governor Sila Calderon said on Thursday. She asked US President George Bush to declare a disaster to speed the release of federal aid.
In the US 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 US 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.
About 3 600 Puerto Ricans remained in shelters on Thursday, dozens of roads were blocked, most of the four million islanders were without power and about 600 000 without running water for a second day, Calderon said.
One Puerto Rican woman was killed on Wednesday when winds flung her from a hammock and smashed her into a neighbour’s house, and a man putting up storm shutters died when he fell from a roof, police
At 11pm (3am GMT), Jeanne’s eye was over the north-east Dominican Republic, about 100km north-northeast of Santo Domingo. The storm was drifting, with storm-force winds stretched out 110km, and expected to remain near the Dominican coast through Friday. A slow west-northwest turn was expected in 12 to 24 hours.
A hurricane warning was posted for the south-eastern 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 brewed in the Caribbean the same day Hurricane Ivan, leaving at least 70 dead across the Caribbean—including 39 in Grenada and 16 in Jamaica—slammed into the US Gulf Coast.
The Cayman Islands reported its first storm-related death on Thursday, saying a 52-year-old Jamaican man died in a hospital of chest injuries sustained when Ivan tore off the roof off a shelter.
Officials there also were searching for a missing 75-year-old fisherman.
“We have been severely hit, and we are pulling ourselves out,” Caymanian leader McKeeva Bush said. “We still need aid.”
He said 20% of homes in the wealthy British territory of 45 000 were “totally demolished” and most had some damage.
Karl on the horizon
Tropical Storm Karl has formed in the far eastern Atlantic, the 11th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.
Karl spun out of a tropical depression that had gathered over humid seas west of the Cape Verde Islands, off north-western Africa.
Its maximum sustained winds were near 64kph on Thursday, barely at tropical-storm threshold.
At 11pm on Thursday (3am GMT on Friday), Karl’s centre was located about 1 183km west-southwest of the Cape Verdes. It was moving west at about 22,5kph.—Sapa-AP
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