More than two dozen dead in Haiti, Dominican Republic after heavy rains batter Hispaniola

More than two dozen people are dead on the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, after torrential rainfall over three days created severe flooding, downed trees and power lines and devastated crops.

At least 21 of the deaths occurred in the Dominican Republic, where nine people died in the capital of Santo Domingo on Saturday after the heavy rains caused the concrete wall of a highway tunnel to collapse, Dominican officials said. Another death occurred when a man named José Altagracia Guzmán was swept away by the waters while shepherding cows.

The Dominican Emergency Operations Center said while the system, which moved across the Caribbean, displaced thousands, at least 2,571 Dominicans had to be rescued in the middle of the storm. The storm not only flooded hundreds of homes in communities like San Cristobal, but in the Lavapiés sector two of them disappeared into a sinkhole.

Dominican President Luis Abinader said he was “deeply shocked” by the loss of life, which also included several children.

On Monday, The Associated Press reported that experts had warned the the government more than 20 years ago about the wall’s failures and lack of efforts to address them.

“It has weaknesses in the design,” civil engineer Cristian Rojas told The Associated Press. “No anchors were placed, and that is why the wall collapsed.”

The Emergency Operations Center said Monday that most of the country’s provinces remained on alert for the possible flooding of rivers, streams and ravines as the country continues to experience rainfall and wind gusts.

In Haiti, the disaster office said at least four people are dead and two others are missing after the heavy downpour sent water rushing through rural towns and destroyed crops at a time when most Haitians are battling severe hunger.

Already wrestling with an outbreak of cholera, Haiti’s health sector also fears the spread of the waterborne disease and others in some areas as rivers and coastal areas remain flooded and roads remain cut off.

“Traffic remains difficult in downtown Port-de-Paix due to the accumulation of mud in the streets,” the Office of Civil Protection said Monday in its latest disaster report on the weather event. “The Chardonnières communal cemetery is flooded. Several graves are destroyed or damaged.”

The devastation is particularly concerning in the southwest, where many people were living under tarps after being displaced by a devastating earthquake on Aug. 14, 2021. As the tropical system approached over the past few days with life-threatening rains and 35 mph sustained winds, many people were forced to evacuate.

Three of the deaths from the storms were in the southwest. The disaster response office said two men died while trying to cross the Acul river and an elderly man died the city of Camp-Perrin, near Les Cayes. In the southeast a woman was swept away by the waters in the commune of Grand Gosier. Her body was found and buried by local authorities in the community of Mapou. In Pestel in the Grand’Anse region, two men were swept away by a flooded La Hatte river, in the town of Tozia.

“No body has been found so far,” the disaster response agency said.

At least 420 homes have been damaged due to rising water, and Haiti’s agricultural sector took a major hit, including areas that grow millet, congo peas and bananas.

Initially, the storm system had been expected to become a tropical cyclone, bringing flash floods to Cuba, Jamaica and the island of Hispaniola. Though the chances of the disturbance strengthening across the Caribbean decreased by Friday, a vulnerable Haiti and the Dominican Republic still was saw devastation.

On Monday, the Haiti disaster office said that in the region of the Nippes, situated between Les Cayes in the southwest and Jérémie, 84 residents, including children, remained in shelter at the O’Rouck National School in Anse-à-Veau.

And while traffic had been restored along National Road #7, which connects Les Cayes and Jérémie, a section of a road in the southeast linking Jacmel to Belle-anse remains blocked at Morne Lacet.

“Floods are recorded in Beaumont in Grand’Anse, in Baradères and at the bottom of the town of Miragoâne in Nippes,” the disaster office said.

In the southeast the Ti Pen and Moreau rivers, which swept away an all-terrain vehicle, caused considerable damage, according to initial assessments.

Late Monday morning, there was still light rain in the north and northeast regions of the country. Residents were reminded to remain vigilant and stay away from rising rivers.