By Manuel Jimenez
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (Reuters) – Floods and mudslides have killed at least 270 people in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, many of them swept to their deaths when rain-swollen rivers burst their banks, authorities in the two neighboring Caribbean countries said on Tuesday.
Canadian troops and U.S. Marines were flying helicopters with relief supplies to the worst-hit part of Haiti, said a spokesman for a U.S.-led peacekeeping force.
The flooding that followed days of torrential rain on the island of Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Thousands were left homeless in the two countries.
About 110 people were killed in the Jimani area of western Dominican Republic, near the border with Haiti, and some 200 people were believed to be missing, officials there said.
In Haiti, up to 100 people were killed in the town of Fond Verettes and the surrounding countryside, and 40 more died in the southeast region of the country in the floods of the past two days, sources close to Haiti’s Civil Protection Office said.
“The village itself, a large portion of it, has complete washed away,” said Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, a spokesman for the multinational force, said of the devastated town of Fond Verettes.
“The water swept down from the high ground, causing mudslides. The riverbed has covered structures and houses.”
Twenty other people died in the south of the country near the Dominican border, said a spokesman for a local humanitarian organization.
The foreign peacekeepers, who number about 3,500, are in Haiti to try to restore order after an armed revolt ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February.
Haiti, with a population of about 8 million, is the poorest country in the Americas. The Dominican Republic, with a population of 8.5 million, is more prosperous, but parts of the country, such as the Jimani area, are still grindingly poor.
The devastation in Jimani occurred when a river burst its banks early on Monday, sending flood waters rushing through several poor neighborhoods and destroying hundreds of fragile homes.
Jesus Bienvenido, deputy head of the country’s Civil Defense department, said as many as 250 people were missing and 300 homes in the area had been destroyed.
RESIDENTS ASLEEP WHEN HOMES ENGULFED
Several survivors told local media they had been asleep when the floods hit their homes.
“It was all very fast, I couldn’t do anything,” said Ramon Perez Feliz, who lost his sister and two nephews. “I was saved because the current threw me away, out of the river bed,” he said.
Television stations showed scenes of dozens of bodies piled up in the morgue at Jimani, many of them children and some caked with mud. Rescue workers said more dead could be buried under the mud and debris.
“It has been a great tragedy,” said Dominican President Hipolito Mejia, who sent army doctors, medical supplies and food to shelters set up for people who lost their homes.
Dominican radio and television stations appealed to the public to donate food, clothes and other supplies to survivors.
About 50 of the dead in the Jimani area were Haitians who had crossed the border to live and work.
Power was cut in many areas and crops were reported waterlogged, but officials said that it was too early to give estimates of damage.
The Dominican weather service said that about 10 inches of rain fell in the last 24 hours in the Jimani area. (Additional reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva in Port-au-Prince).