Associated Press
Sat, Sep. 18, 2004

Jeanne Lashes Dominican Republic; 9 Dead

Associated Press

SAN PEDRO DE MACORIS, Dominican Republic - Tropical Storm Jeanne battered the Dominican Republic before heading to the Bahamas where the tempest, which has killed at least nine people, began to churn seas and stir deadly storm surges on Saturday.

Jeanne lost strength as it drove thousands of Dominicans from their homes by late Friday. But a few hours after being downgraded to a tropical depression, it strengthened again into a tropical storm with lashing winds.

Forecasters said it was too soon to predict if the storm would hit the United States. But Brian Jarvinen at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said he couldn't rule out the possibility that it might strike Florida, which has been struck by three hurricanes since mid-August.

The storm stalled over the Dominican Republic after coming ashore Thursday as a hurricane, with winds near 80 mph. It raged through Puerto Rico on Wednesday, dumping up to two feet of rain, flooding hundreds of homes and downing power lines.

Jeanne became better organized as it moved over the sparsely populated outer islands of the southeast Bahamas Saturday morning.

The storm was blamed for seven deaths in the Dominican Republic, Juan Luis German, spokesman for the National Emergency Committee said Saturday.

Police said 11-year-old Pedro Hernandez drowned after the Guaemate River in his town of Higuiey burst its banks and swept him away.

On Friday, two others were swept away by swollen rivers; one man was crushed by a falling palm tree; another couldn't reach the hospital while having a heart attack; and winds slammed a man riding a motorcycle into a telephone pole. A baby died when a landslide crushed part of her house on Thursday.

Residents shoveled mud from their homes and tried to salvage their belongings in a farming community near San Pedro de Macoris, birthplace of baseball star Sammy Sosa. The community was under 9 feet of water after the Soco River burst its banks.

By Saturday, the water had dried, leaving about 6 inches of mud on streets littered with mattresses, washing machines and sofas. Helicopters rescued about 200 people stranded on rooftops, but most of the 1,200 residents had evacuated.

"The only thing we all saved here was our lives," said Yolanda Florentino, 39, as she carefully laid out her six childrens' soggy birth certificates on a chair.

Crops, including bananas, green beans and tomatoes, were swept away.

Two people also died Wednesday in Puerto Rico, where rain was still falling Saturday morning and half of the 4 million residents were without running water for a fourth day. Seventy percent were without electricity.

President Bush declared the U.S. territory a disaster zone on Friday after Jeanne tore through the island as a tropical storm. Gov. Sila Calderon said the island's agriculture industry's losses were estimated at $100 million.

In Samana, a north-coast Dominican town popular with European tourists, people felt hurricane-force gusts driving horizontal sheets of rain. Jeanne tore off dozens of roofs in the town and brought down some concrete walls.

"My house is made of wood so I know it can't hold up to these winds," said Amanda Cibel, 23, who had fled to a shelter in Samana, 60 miles northeast of Santo Domingo. "It's going to be terrible to go home and find nothing."

More than 8,200 people were evacuated and took refuge in shelters set up in schools and churches, officials said.

"I've seen strong storms but never like this," said Elizabeth Javier, 12, standing where her family's living room used to be. The storm demolished one wall and the entire roof.

At 5 p.m., Jeanne was near the Turks and Caicos islands. It was moving north-northwest at about 7 mph with maximum sustained winds near 45 mph. Storm-force winds extended up to 85 miles.

Out at sea, the 11th named storm of a busy Atlantic hurricane season formed. Hurricane Karl, which had sustained winds near 85 mph, posed no immediate threat to land, forecasters said.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Javier weakened steadily as it closed in on the northwest Pacific coast of Mexico on Saturday. The storm was centered about 80 miles southwest of Cabo San Lazaro in Baja California Sur state and moving toward the north at 10 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. Carrying maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, Javier was expected to reach the Baja Peninsula early Sunday.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.


Associated Press reporters Istra Pacheco, Ricardo Zuniga and Jose Fernandez Colon in Puerto Rico contributed to this report.