At least 80 killed in Noel's Caribbean rampage

Floods and landslides triggered by Tropical Storm Noel have killed at least 80 people in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, as the weather system on Thursday slowly headed towards the Bahamas.

At least 56 people were killed and dozens are missing in the Dominican Republic, said Luis Luna Palino, who heads the Dominican Republic’s National Emergencies Center (CNE).

In neighbouring Haiti, at least 24 people were killed, Civil Protection officials said.

The centre of Noel ripped through central and eastern Cuba on Wednesday, where no casualties were reported though more than 20 000 people were evacuated from the storm’s path.

With dams full, rivers bloated and the soil saturated from weeks of rain, Cuban Civil Defence authorities warned of possible floods and landslides.

At 6am GMT on Thursday the centre of Noel was located about 200km south-west of Nassau, in the Bahamas, and about 315km south-east of Miami, the Florida-based National Hurricane Centre reported.

Noel was crawling north at 8km/h, packing maximum sustained winds near 95km/h, with higher gusts.

Noel barrelled across the Dominican Republic on Sunday, slamming Haiti on Monday. By Wednesday, Noel’s sequels continued to wreak havoc over Hispaniola, the island the two countries share.

“The situation is still dangerous and the number of deaths could rise,” said Palino.

“Rescuing people is becoming difficult because the rains are continuing,” Palino told local radio, adding that floods had cut off 39 communities in the south of the country, where more than one-third of the population was left without power.

“The worst of the situation is the flooding of rivers,” he said.

More than one-third of the country’s population is also without electricity, officials said.

In Haiti, there were at least 18 storm-related deaths, including a 14-year-old girl and her mother killed when an uprooted tree crushed their house in the capital.

Heavy rains swept away and destroyed homes in three departments, said Marie Alta Jean Baptiste, head of the country’s civil protection agency.

Haitian Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis said $1,5-million had been set aside to assist storm victims.

In Cuba, about 120 homes were reported destroyed in northern Camanguey province by heavy surf caused by Noel. Some interior areas remain incommunicado due to flooded roads.
Radio reports mention coffee crops damaged by flooding.

Noel is the first powerful storm to directly hit Cuba since Hurricane Wilma in October 2005, which resulted in heavy flooding including in Havana.

Forecasters expect Noel to strengthen as it passes over warm water and gradually turn to the north-east, eventually skirting Florida.

Residents of the south-eastern US state were urged to closely monitor its progress. - Sapa-AFP

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