Tropical Storm Noel Lashes Caribbean

October 30, 2007

Noel, a late season tropical storm, has caused extensive damage in the Dominican Republic and threatens greater havoc in Haiti. The two countries, who share the island of Hispaniola, have been hit with high winds and drenched by heavy rains. At least 20 deaths have been reported in the Dominican Republic and a similar number of people are missing. Most of the deaths were reported along the southern coast of the island coast, east of the capital Santo Domingo.

Officials in Haiti feared extensive damage from flash floods in impoverished areas of the country, where there is little or no vegetation left to hold back the runoff. The strengthening Caribbean storm [see following article] poses a serious threat to Haiti, where floods killed at least 37 people earlier this month.

Swollen rivers also forced evacuations in Cabaret, a town north of Port-au-Prince where floods killed at least 23 people earlier this month, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti’s civil protection agency. “We are working hard to make sure everything goes well and that every citizen knows a cyclone is coming,” Jean-Baptiste said. It could take days for Haitian authorities to learn of flooding in some parts of the country, where communications are limited.

A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch were issued for southeastern parts of Cuba, including the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay where the U.S. military holds some 330 detainees on suspicion of links to terrorism. “I don’t envision the storm will have any tangible impacts on detention operations as the modern facilities have been constructed to withstand high winds and significant rainfall,” said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman.

Flood concerns on Saturday forced three U.S. senators to cut short a trip to Haiti, where they’d planned to survey damage caused by earlier storms. “It was just raining like mad,” Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa told The Associated Press before flying out of Port-au-Prince Saturday evening. Senators Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Tennessee’s Bob Corker were also visiting.

Widespread deforestation and poor drainage mean that even moderate rains can cause devastation in Haiti, where thousands of people build ramshackle homes in flood plains. In 2004 the Caribbean nation was hit by Tropical Storm Jeanne, which triggered flooding and mudslides that killed more than 2,000 people. That storm later strengthened into a hurricane.

Source: AP and other news reports

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