SANTO DOMINGO (AFP) — The death toll from Tropical Storm Noel's rampage through the Caribbean rose to at least 59 on Wednesday as torrents of water swept away entire families in the Dominican Republic.
Floods forced people to climb onto their roofs or to perch on trees in affected areas of the Dominican Republic, where at least 41 people were killed and another 38 were reported missing.
In one neighborhood of Santo Domingo, entire houses disappeared under the flood waters.
Noel barreled across the Dominican Republic on Sunday, and slammed Haiti the next day. On Wednesday, Noel's sequels continued to wreak havoc over Hispaniola, the island the two countries share, as the storm moved across Cuba, emerged in the Atlantic Ocean and targeted the Bahamas.
"The situation is still dangerous and the number of deaths could rise," said Luis Luna Palino, who heads the Dominican Republic's National Emergencies Center (CNE).
"Rescuing people is becoming difficult because the rains are continuing," Palino told local radio, adding that floods had cut off 39 communities in the south of the country, where one third of the population was left without power.
"The worst of the situation is the flooding of rivers," he said.
More than 25,500 people fled their homes, over 6,000 homes were damaged, and 10 bridges collapsed, authorities said.
Dominican President Leonel Fernandez announced a three million dollar relief package for storm victims.
In Haiti, there were at least 18 storm-related deaths, including a 14-year-old girl and her mother killed when an uprooted tree crushed their house in the capital.
Heavy rains swept away and destroyed homes in three departments, said Marie Alta Jean Baptiste, head of the country's civil protection agency.
Haitian Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis said 1.5 million dollars had been set aside to assist storm victims.
In Cuba, where some 15,000 people were evacuated, dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed, and floods cut off several areas. Local radio reported that numerous coffee fields were under water.
The Cuban Institute of Meteorology warned that much of the soil along Noel's path was already saturated from previous heavy rainfall, and urged residents be on the lookout for flooding.
Authorities feared further floods and mudslides as the storm drenched Caribbean nations already soaked by weeks of steady rains.
"These rains ... especially in Hispaniola and Cuba, are expected to cause life-threatening floods and mudslides," said forecaster James Franklin, of the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.
The storm headed back over water on Wednesday morning, emerging in the Atlantic Ocean off Cuba's northern coast, where it remained stationary for several hours but was expected to eventually more northward.
It packed maximum sustained winds of 85 kilometers (50 miles) per hour, with higher gusts and was expected to strengthen as it barrels over water.
Forecasters expected the storm to swirl over several islands of the Bahamas. Noel's forecast track indicated it would skirt Florida, but residents of the southeastern US state were urged to closely monitor its progress.
At 2100 GMT, the center of the Tropical Storm Noel was 305 kilometers (190 miles) south-southwest of Nassau, Bahamas.
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