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Archive for Saturday, November 3, 2007

Tropical Storm Noel soaks Haiti

November 3, 2007

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— U.N. helicopters were waiting out driving rain that lashed Haiti on Friday before they could assess flood damage from Tropical Storm Noel, which killed at least 48 here and left thousands homeless.

The new showers from Noel's outer bands raised fears of further deaths in a country prone to catastrophic flooding. In the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, the rains largely let up, allowing flights carrying urgently needed relief supplies.

Authorities in the Dominican Republic confirmed 79 deaths and said at least 62,000 were left homeless by the storm.

The storm grew into Hurricane Noel as it passed Thursday over the Bahamas, where flooding killed one man and forced the evacuation of nearly 400 people. The storm then shifted north over the ocean and headed parallel to the U.S. Atlantic coast toward Nova Scotia.

By Friday evening, it had sustained winds of 80 mph and was centered about 320 miles southeast of North Carolina.

Noel is the deadliest storm of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, with at least 132 dead. Forecasters say 2 to 4 inches of rain could fall in North Carolina's Outer Banks, while isolated areas of New England might see 6 inches.

The United Nations, which has a large peacekeeping force in Haiti, planned to send helicopters to survey flood damage over the country's southern peninsula, which was hit hard by the storm.

Impoverished Haiti is particularly vulnerable to flooding because people have cut down most of the country's trees to make charcoal, leaving the hillsides barren and unable to absorb heavy rain.

The death toll in Haiti rose from 43 to 48 Friday as authorities reported more fatalities from the storm.

"It looks like it's going to be horrible," said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, head of the country's civil protection department. "After the rain who knows how many more we will find."

The Dominican Republic is not as deforested but also suffers from severe flooding because of its steep mountains and large numbers of people who live in simple homes along its rivers.

Dominican President Leonel Fernandez pledged aid to flood victims, and the government said it had distributed more than 3 million food rations in the hardest hit areas. The first plane to arrive with international donations departed from Panama, carrying 100,000 pounds of relief supplies.

Aid also came from Dominicans like Joel Diaz, a 29-year-old who lives in the outskirts of the capital. "We're poor, but there are people today who don't have anything," he said as he donated clothes and canned food at an emergency management office.

The storm was blamed on the death of one person in Jamaica.

Heavy downpours also continued to pound much of eastern Cuba on Friday, and state television reported that more than 30,000 people across the island had been evacuated because of rains associated with Noel. Most were staying with friends and neighbors, according to the military, which used trucks to move citizens to higher ground.

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