SANTO DOMINGO The Dominican Republic appealed for international help to cope with devastating floods from Tropical Storm Noel that killed at least 56 in the country, while troops rushed on Thursday to evacuate people living under dams that the authorities feared could overflow.
President Leonel Fernandez, who declared a state of emergency on Wednesday night, asked multinational financial institutions to lend the country $200 million to rebuild torn roads, collapsed bridges and a ravaged electrical network.
Fernandez also ordered the military to evacuate families living in the possible path of floodwaters from brimming reservoirs at the Hatillo and Sabana Yegua dams in the south of the Caribbean country of around 8 million people.
"Weather conditions appear to be improving and we plan to take advantage of this to relocate the people living in the shadow of the dams and who are in a position of great vulnerability," said the head of the Civil Defense force, Luis Luna Paulino.
As of Wednesday night, 56 deaths had been confirmed and 27 other people were missing after chest-high floodwaters surged across large swathes of the country, sweeping away thousands of houses and leaving at least 50,000 people homeless.
Separately, authorities in Haiti, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, said the storm had taken 34 lives there.
The worst incident appeared to have occurred in the village of Villa Altagracia, outside the Dominican capital Santo Domingo, where two rivers broke their banks and destroyed most of the community of 200 or so houses. Survivors said up to 35 bodies were seen strewn on the river banks there.
The floods triggered by days of unrelenting rain from Tropical Storm Noel, which was located southeast of Miami on Thursday, also destroyed acres of farmland.
Dominican Public Works Minister Victor Diaz said the physical damage, including collapsed bridges, amounted to at least $32 million so far.
The Ministry of Agriculture said it would take a bit longer to evaluate the damage to farms because more than 50 communities remained cut off.
President Fernandez appealed to other countries to send helicopters to help the Dominican Republic rescue people stranded in isolated villages.
"We are in a state of emergency and all of the resources of the state will be assigned to those responsible for rescue operations," Fernandez said.
Schools would be closed until Monday, officials in the Education Ministry said.