Dozens killed as Noel rages across Caribbean

The death toll from Tropical Storm Noel’s rampage through the Caribbean rose to at least 54 on Wednesday as the devastating weather system swirled off Cuba and targeted the Bahamas.

In the Dominican Republic alone, the storm killed 41 people, with another 38 reported missing, according to the National Emergencies Centre (CNE).

“The situation is still dangerous and the number of deaths could rise,” said Luis Luna Palino, who heads the CNE.

“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 one third of the population was left without power.

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

Dominican President Leonel Fernandez announced a $3-billion relief package for storm victims.

In Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, there were at least 13 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, where about 9 000 people were evacuated, dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed, and floods cut off several areas. Local radio reported that numerous coffee fields were under water.

The Cuban Institute of Meteorology warned that much of the soil along Noel’s path was already saturated from previous heavy rainfall, and urged residents be on the lookout for flooding.

Authorities feared further floods and mudslides as the storm drenched Caribbean nations already soaked by weeks of steady rains.

“These rains ... especially in Hispaniola and Cuba, are expected to cause life-threatening floods and mudslides,” said forecaster James Franklin, of the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre.

The storm headed back over water on Wednesday morning, emerging in the Atlantic Ocean off Cuba’s northern coast.

It packed maximum sustained winds of 85km/h, with higher gusts and was expected to strengthen as it barrels over water.

Forecasters expected the storm to swirl over several islands of the Bahamas.
Noel’s forecast track indicated Noel would skirt Florida, but residents of the south-eastern US state were urged to closely monitor its progress.

At 15h00 GMT, the centre of the Tropical Storm Noel was 280km south-southwest of Nassau, Bahamas.—AFP

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