The New York Times
October 1, 1998

          In a Town Destroyed, Dominicans Salvage Little but the Will to Go On


               LAS MINAS, Dominican Republic -- Miguel Montero and his family
               fled their home in this remote precinct of the town of San Juan last
          week after radio reports warned that a hurricane was headed their way.

          But once Hurricane Georges completed its violent journey through here,
          the Monteros returned to a scene that left them stunned: the flood waters
          had swept their home and nearly half of this small village into the murky
          depths of the nearby San Juan River, leaving almost nothing behind.

          "I feel lost," said Montero, a slight, 23-year-old man whose family has been
          forced to sleep on the floor of a baseball stadium in the center of San Juan along
          with hundreds of his fellow villagers. "Everything we had is gone. There is no
          trace that we were ever here."

          While most people in this Caribbean nation begin the arduous task of
          repairing their homes, schools and businesses, few in this forsaken village
          have been left with anything to repair. Their homes have nearly all disappeared.

          Hurricane Georges dealt one of its most devastating blows to the 15,000 people
          living hereand in the surrounding villages on the western edge of this nation.

          Houses were either swallowed by the engorged river or toppled and
          buried in mud. Trees were shredded and in many cases uprooted. The
          stench of rotting animal carcasses fills the air. And the local coffin maker,
          who normally makes 10 a week, says he is suddenly filling orders for 12 a

          As Frank Monte de Occa, a migrant worker who lost his home, put it:
          "We have become a community of refugees. We have nowhere to go. I
          don't know how we will ever recover from this."

          Yet, with rescue workers arriving and wreckage from the storm being
          slowly cleared away, many residents are already trying to look past this

          Nelson Montero said his two nieces, ages 6 and 3, and a nephew, 2,
          drowned in the surging waters that swept through the area in the
          pre-dawn hours of Sept. 22, but Montero, a tall man with sunken eyes
          and leathery skin, says he has not allowed himself to linger on it too much,
          saving his energy for rebuilding his home.

          He has urged his sister, the mother of the three children, to do the same.
          "She is completely devastated," Montero said. "But I told her not to dwell
          on it because it would only make things worse. The dead are dead.
          There's nothing we can do. The living must continue living."

          Las Minas, nestled in between mountains about a hundred miles west of
          the capital city, Santo Domingo, is a poor community of farm workers
          that had the terrible luck of being in the way of the hurricane as it barreled
          along the southern coast of the island before shifting violently inland and
          crossing the border into Haiti, the Dominican Republic's neighbor on the
          island of Hispaniola.

          The hurricane struck hardest in Las Minas and other small towns and
          villages in the west, where the bulk of the nation's 249 storm-related
          deaths occurred, according to American officials coordinating rescue

          Beyond that, it took nearly a week for any help from outside to arrive in
          the mountainous region because Las Minas and the other neighboring
          small towns had been cut off by flood waters and broken bridges.

          That has deepened the misery here and forced people to make do with
          what little food and water they had before the storm.

          "I have no idea of when we'll begin putting our lives back together again,"
          said Manuel Pineldo, whose home was destroyed and whose brother was
          swept away by surging flood waters and drowned. "We live in a province
          that is cut off from everything. The help we need isn't arriving."

          The despair can be seen almost everywhere. People dig pots, pans,
          dresses and clothing from mounds of mud.

          They draw buckets of drinking water from and bathe in a river being
          dredged for dead bodies.

          They sift through the rubble of their former houses, scavenging for nails,
          lumber and other costly and scarce building material that they can use to

          Or they load pickup trucks with mattresses, sofas and whatever else they
          can salvage to take on their journey to find a new home.

          Valentine Morillo Sanchez is one of those who returned to see what could
          be saved from his house, a small one-room structure made of timber and
          sheets of tin that was almost miraculously left standing. There was not a
          lot left inside: four wooden chairs, a small table, a mattress spring, his
          baby's crib -- and the mud.

          "There's not much left worth saving," said Sanchez, a timid and
          soft-spoken man who took such pride in his little house that he actually
          bothered to paint its tin exterior purple.

          "But," he added, "the good thing is we're alive."

          For now, Sanchez, his wife and two children, ages 2 and 11 months, are
          staying at a shelter until they can figure out what to do next.

          "This has devastated us," said Sanchez, 31, who makes his living by
          running errands for a local bank president.

          Perhaps the only uplifting thing in Las Minas these days is the resilience
          and resolve of its people.

          Blasmaria Diaz, a 23-year-old migrant worker, toiled beneath a blazing
          sun on a swampy field where his house once stood, prying its tin roof
          from the mud.

          "I'm going to rebuild it over there," he said, almost confidently, as he
          pointed to a field far from the river, a place where he things he will be
          safer. "I don't know how long it will take. But I'm going to rebuild it

          Zenida Encarnacion, a 37-year-old bodega owner who lost both her
          home and business, somehow found it in herself not to be bitter -- or at
          least show bitterness.

          The day before the hurricane struck, Ms. Encarnacion and her three
          children arrived at a shelter that officials had set up at the local baseball
          stadium. Bracing for the worst, she took as many goods from her store as
          she could carry: bottles of orange juice, rolls of bread, boxes of cookies
          and on and on.

          "I'm fortunate that I have food to feed my children with," she said sitting in
          a small, cramped room inside the stadium. "There are so many others who
          are going hungry."

          For now, one big question on most people's minds is what will become of
          La Minas. Some say they fully intend to rebuild their homes and stay. But
          others say that would be fool-hardy.

          Berna de Lozanto, a 23-year-old mother of three, is in the latter camp.

          "This is a dangerous area," she said Wednesday afternoon, pointing to the
          river. 'I will never come back. Not with my children. Not with that river