Olga triggers release from Dominican dam
"It's a catastrophe,'' an official says, as residents flee floods.
Published December 13, 2007
SANTIAGO, Dominican Republic - Tropical Storm Olga triggered floods and landslides on the island of Hispaniola on Wednesday, killing at least 13 people and forcing thousands to flee homes, authorities said. One person died in Puerto Rico.
Hardest hit was the northern Dominican province of Santiago, where heavy rains forced authorities to release water from a near-capacity dam into the already swollen Yaque River. The provincial governor said at least seven towns were completely flooded.
People complained on the radio that they were not warned of the water release from the dam, and officials acknowledged it might have caused some of the deaths.
"We have an emergency situation. It's a catastrophe," Gov. Jose Izquierdo said.
Dominican Attorney General Radhames Jimenez said at least seven people were killed and 5,000 evacuated. The storm was also blamed for one death in Puerto Rico, where a rain-triggered avalanche buried an SUV.
Families along the banks of the swollen Yuna River near Santiago were evacuating, placing mattresses atop their heads, and climbing aboard motorcycles headed toward higher ground. Televisions and small ovens were stacked outside humble wooden homes, ready to be moved. Trucks carrying soldiers headed toward Santiago province.
As heavy rains began to overwhelm the Tavera Dam, outside Santiago, the country's second-largest city, officials ordered therelease of millions of gallons of water into the Yaque River, said Ismael Matias, planning chief of the Dominican emergency operations center.
Local authorities had warned repeatedly that a release was possible during the storm and told people to evacuate areas in the path of water rising as high as 66 feet above normal, Matias said. It was unclear if the warnings were heeded or even relayed.
"Perhaps some people did not believe that the water was going to come and they stayed, that's possible," Matias said.
Olga joins nine named December storms
- Olga struck nearly two weeks after the official end of the Atlantic hurricane season. It is only the 10th named storm in December since record keeping began in 1851, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. "It's not completely unusual to have a storm form in December," said Daniel Brown, a hurricane specialist at the center, who noted that three named storms have formed after Nov. 30 since 2003.
- At 10 p.m. EST, Olga was near latitude 18.9 N and longitude 77.6 W. Forecasters predicted it would gradually weaken into a tropical depression.
- The storm passed Puerto Rico on Tuesday night, knocking out electricity to 79,000 people and water to 144,000.
[Last modified December 13, 2007, 01:21:03]
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