Jeanne hits Dominican Republic

Tropical Storm Jeanne tore through the Dominican Republic on Friday with fierce winds that triggered mudslides, collapsed concrete walls and forced thousands to evacuate. The storm, which has killed six across the Caribbean, is expected to become a hurricane over the Bahamas and then head for Florida.

Two people died on Friday in the Dominican Republic. One man was crashed by a falling palm tree.
Another was having a heart attack and couldn’t get to a hospital because of the storm, according to Juan Luis German, spokesperson for the National Emergency Committee.

Both deaths occurred in El Seybo, 135km north-east of Santo Domingo, which was saturated by the storm on Thursday and where an infant died when a landslide crushed part of her family’s house.

Thousands were stranded on rooftops of flooded homes in San Pedro de Macoris, where the River Soco burst its banks. Authorities were sending helicopters to rescue people in the north-eastern fishing town, birthplace of baseball star Sammy Sosa.

The storm was projected to graze the southern Bahamas and there was a chance that Florida, already battered by back-to-back storms, could feel Jeanne’s effects by Sunday.

“It’s expected to strengthen to somewhere between a category one or category two,” which have winds from 118kph to 176kph, said Walter Snell, a forecaster at the United States National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“What happens with the high-pressure fronts on the edge of the storm will determine how close it gets to Florida.”

In Samana, a north-coast Dominican town popular with European tourists, the storm stalled for about 10 hours overnight and people felt hurricane-force gusts driving horizontal sheets of rain.

Jeanne tore off dozens of roofs in the town and brought down some concrete walls.

“My house is made of wood so I know it can’t hold up to these winds, said Amanda Cibel (23), who had fled to a shelter in Samana. “It’s going to be terrible to go home and find nothing.”

One man on a motorcycle was killed instantly when winds slammed him into a telephone pole, Dr Jacqueline Alvarez said at the hospital of Samana, which is about 95km north-east of Santo Domingo.

Jeanne first passed the US Virgin Islands on Wednesday, flooding some homes and littering streets with debris in St Croix.

Two prisoners escaped there during the storm, though it was unclear how.

The storm was still lashing nearby Puerto Rico with rains on Friday. A severe thunderstorm in the south produced lightning and gusty winds that caused authorities to urge residents to stay inside sturdy buildings.

Authorities in Puerto Rico urged islanders to boil their piped water—prompting angry comments since half the four million residents were without running water for a third day on Friday and 70% were without electricity.

The storm destroyed about 30% of coffee crops and 20% of the plantain and banana crops in Jayuya, a mountain town in central Puerto Rico, said mayor Jorge Gonzalez Otero.

“It left a wake of destruction,” 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.

Jeanne hit the Dominican Republic with winds near 130kph. It was at 110 kph when it raged across Puerto Rico on Wednesday, dumping up to 61cm of rain, flooding hundreds of homes and downing power lines. Two people died.

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

Electricity and water were out and airlines cancelled flights.

More than 8 200 Dominicans were evacuated and took refuge in shelters set up in schools and churches, officials said.

“I’ve seen strong storms but never like this,” said Elizabeth Javier (12), standing where her family’s living room used to be. The storm demolished one wall and the entire roof.

At 2pm (5pm GMT), Jeanne was centred just north of the Haiti-Dominican border, about 150km south-southwest of Grand Turk island. It was moving slowly west-northwestward near 12 kph with storm-force winds stretching 325km from the centre.

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 storm warning.

Jeanne brewed in the Caribbean the same day Hurricane Ivan exited, leaving at least 70 dead across the Caribbean, half in devastated Grenada, and at least 30 dead in the United States.

The Cayman Islands reported its first storm-related death on Thursday, and officials said they were searching for a missing 75-year-old fisherman. Caymanian leader McKeeva Bush said 20% of homes in the wealthy British territory of 45 000 were “totally demolished” and most homes suffered some damage.—Sapa-AP

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