Storm batters the Bahamas
Noel intensifies into hurricane
NASSAU, Bahamas - A powerful storm drenched the Bahamas and Cuba yesterday while rescue workers in the Dominican Republic headed out in boats and helicopters to reach dozens of communities isolated by floods and mudslides. The death toll rose to 108.
Noel was upgraded to a hurricane last night after it had already become the deadliest tempest of the Atlantic region this year. Hurricane Felix, a Category 5 storm, killed 101 people when it lashed the Caribbean and slammed into the Nicaraguan and Honduran coasts in early September.
By mid-evening as it moved away from the Bahamas, Hurricane Noel had sustained winds of 75 miles per hour, just strong enough to be rated a Category 1 hurricane, the National Weather Service said.
Earlier yesterday, muddy rain-swollen waters overflowed a dam in Cuba, washing into hundreds of homes and over highways and knocking out electricity and telephone service. Dozens of small communities were cut off.
Cuban soldiers went door-to-door in low-lying areas and evacuated about 24,000 people, according to state radio and television reports. At least 2,000 homes were damaged, but there was no official word of deaths.
The storm delivered a record 15 inches of rain to the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said. Flooding killed at least one man in the Bahamas and forced the evacuation of almost 400 people. Ingraham said most of the evacuees were from the northeast Bahamian island of Abaco.
Nassau International Airport closed but was expected to reopen today. Only one of 10 cruise ships arrived on schedule.
Rescuers in the Dominican Republic took off in helicopters and boats to reach isolated residents for the first time in three days. Hundreds of volunteers joined civil defense forces as they left at dawn yesterday - many in boats loaned by private owners.
Rescuers in Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, found a rising toll of death and damage: at least 66 dead in the Dominican Republic and 40 in Haiti, where the majority of bodies were found in and around the capital of Port-au-Prince. One person was killed in Jamaica.
At least 62,500 Dominicans fled their homes, said Luis Antonio Luna, head of the Emergencies Commission.
The storm was expected to head away from the United States. Some coastal communities in Florida and Georgia were experiencing beach erosion.
Several dozen structures along the Florida coast were threatened. In St. Johns County, at least a half dozen homes were in danger after beaches washed away, leaving little barrier between them and the waves.