Noel death toll rises to at least 81 - News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

Noel death toll rises to at least 81

HAITI (AP) -- Tropical Storm Noel triggered mudslides and floods in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, pushing the death toll to 81 on Wednesday and forcing some parents to choose which of their children to save from the surging waters.

The storm is slowly moving away from the north coast of Cuba and is projected to skirt Florida and batter the Bahamas.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center has issued a tropical storm watch for parts of southeast Florida's coast, which is being buffeted by strong winds and high surf. Forecasters warn that gusty winds are likely to continue hitting Florida through Thursday.

With rain still falling on Hispaniola two days after the storm hit, rescuers are struggling to reach communities cut off by flooding on the island. As they did, they found a rising toll of death and damage - at least 56 dead in the Dominican Republic, 24 in Haiti and one in Jamaica.

A swollen river overflowed its banks Monday night and swept away the hamlet of Piedra Blanca in the central Dominican Republic, forcing Charo Vidal to climb a tree. She watched her neighbor struggle to do the same nearby, clutching infant twins while water swept an older daughter away.

"She couldn't take care of all three," Vidal said Wednesday. "That is something very significant, to have a child snatched from your hands and you cannot do anything for them."

The mother, Mary De Leon, was inconsolable. "The river tore her from my hands as I held her," she said through tears.

"A lot of people had to choose between losing one child and losing another one," said Liony Batista, a project manager for Food for the Poor, an international Christian relief organization.

Sagrario Diaz, a 42-year-old farmer, also struggled to hold on to his son in the surging waters but failed. "I fought, I swear I tried to save him, but I couldn't," Diaz said. "I would like to die."
AP) Tropical Storm Noel triggered mudslides and floods in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, pushing the death toll to 81 on Wednesday and forcing some parents to choose which of their children to save from the surging waters.

The storm is slowly moving away from the north coast of Cuba and is projected to skirt Florida and batter the Bahamas.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center has issued a tropical storm watch for parts of southeast Florida's coast, which is being buffeted by strong winds and high surf. Forecasters warn that gusty winds are likely to continue hitting Florida through Thursday.

With rain still falling on Hispaniola two days after the storm hit, rescuers are struggling to reach communities cut off by flooding on the island. As they did, they found a rising toll of death and damage - at least 56 dead in the Dominican Republic, 24 in Haiti and one in Jamaica.

A swollen river overflowed its banks Monday night and swept away the hamlet of Piedra Blanca in the central Dominican Republic, forcing Charo Vidal to climb a tree. She watched her neighbor struggle to do the same nearby, clutching infant twins while water swept an older daughter away.

"She couldn't take care of all three," Vidal said Wednesday. "That is something very significant, to have a child snatched from your hands and you cannot do anything for them."

The mother, Mary De Leon, was inconsolable. "The river tore her from my hands as I held her," she said through tears.

"A lot of people had to choose between losing one child and losing another one," said Liony Batista, a project manager for Food for the Poor, an international Christian relief organization.

Sagrario Diaz, a 42-year-old farmer, also struggled to hold on to his son in the surging waters but failed. "I fought, I swear I tried to save him, but I couldn't," Diaz said. "I would like to die."

A neighbor, Lucia Araujo, said she heard the boy scream: "Daddy, I don't want to drown! Help me, I don't want to drown!"

At least seven people died in Piedra Blanca, emergency officials said.

About 200 homes were destroyed in the nearby town of Bonao, Batista said.

Dominican President Leonel Fernandez declared a state of emergency for the next 30 days and asked for international help, especially rescue teams and helicopters. He ordered residents in 36 communities to evacuate because they were in potential flood zones.

At least 58,300 Dominicans fled their homes, some 14,500 of which were damaged, said Luis Antonio Luna, head of the Emergencies Commission. He said at least 56 people had died in the Dominican Republic so far. Flooding also forced the evacuation of about 1,000 inmates from a prison north of the Dominican capital.

Luna said officials were trying to reach dozens of isolated communities, but bad weather, a lack of helicopters and damage to bridges and highways slowed rescue efforts.

Posted by KO

The Associated Press and CBS News contributed to this report.

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