Hundreds feared dead in Caribbean floods

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The Independent US

Around 100 people died when floods unleashed by torrential rains swept through a small farming town in the Dominican Republic, officials said.

National Emergency Commission Director Radhames Lora Salcedo said some 150 or more people were still missing, feared dead.

Rains drenched the agricultural town of Jimani early yesterday, forcing the Solie River to burst its banks. Only debris-filled mud and scattered clothes remained where dozens of houses once stood.

As relatives sloshed through mud and searched for loved ones, workers dug bodies out from the mud. Some cadavers lay along the main road.

People wandered streets littered with fallen trees and power cables. Ambulances queued to pick up the dead.

Officials were using the electrical generator room of the town hospital as a morgue because the actual morgue was destroyed by floodwaters. Rescue teams kept arriving with more bodies.

"They found my daughter. Now I have to see if I have some family left," said Elena Diaz, 42, sobbing in a long line outside the morgue where she went to look for her son-in-law and three grandchildren.

She said her daughter's house was swept away by the river, which tore through the neighbourhood in the western town near the Caribbean country's border with Haiti. Few houses were left. Many were destroyed or swept away.

Farmer Jose Altagracia Perez said he was in his house at around 3am local time yesterday when the water began to rise, leaving little time for action.

"The house is all gone. The river came and took everything. Now I don't have anything," said the 60-year-old, waiting in line outside the morgue and looking for his three-year-old son.

The raging water carried victims away, and bodies were found up to six miles downstream, said Maximo Noves Espinal, a rescue worker.

"We're recovering bodies. We'll be at it all night," he said.

At sea, a Guyanese-registered freighter sank off the north coast of the Dominican Republic early yesterday, leaving one man dead, officials said. The Dominican Navy said the crew attributed the sinking to rough weather and a heavy load of cement blocks aboard the 160ft Family Island Express.

Ofilio Perez of Nicaragua was found dead in the water. Four of the ship's crew were rescued, officials said.

On land, the weather struck most fiercely in Jimani, a Dominican town surrounded by sugar cane fields just east of the border with Haiti and around 110 miles) west of the capital, Santo Domingo.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean country, 30-year-old Nelson de Jesus and 31-year-old Cristian Ramos were caught in an overflowing river late Sunday and died in northern San Francisco de Macoris, officials said.

Another man, 27-year-old Delervin Castro, was fishing off the coast Sunday in northern Sanchez when he was swept away by strong currents, officials said.

At least 450 homes were flooded throughout the country and at least 14 small towns had power outages and toppled phone lines, Lora Salcedo said.

In the neighbouring US territory of Puerto Rico, searchers found the body of 24-year-old Miguel Valle Ortiz, who had disappeared Sunday after he fell off a small boat when it tipped over in a flooded lagoon, officials said. A friend who was with him escaped to safety.

Some areas of Puerto Rico saw up to 8ins of rain over the weekend, according to the US National Weather Service.

Heavy rains persisted through the day in some areas, leaving small towns and roads flooded in the western Dominican Republic.

The rains also drenched parts of Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. To the east in Antigua and Barbuda, thousands of students stayed home yesterday as classes were cancelled.