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Dominican Republic floods kill 76, dozens missing
Updated: 2004-05-25 13:26

At least 76 people, nearly half of them children, were killed when a rain-swollen river burst its banks and swept away dozens of fragile homes in the western Dominican Republic on Monday, officials said.

Rescue workers searched for dozens more people missing in the flooded area near the Haitian border, but suspended their efforts for the day as darkness fell.

A local volunteer group, Citizens Taking Part, estimated 200 people had died after the Jimani river burst its banks and swirled into a dry river valley near the town of Jimani, a spokesman for the group said.

But government officials said that the official death toll so far stood at 76, including 34 children. About 125 injured people had been taken to hospitals in the area.

The flood waters hurtled through an area of poor homes before dawn as families slept, witnesses said. Government officials estimated about 100 homes were swept away.

"There are whole families that have disappeared," said Alcibiades Moreta, spokesman for Citizens Taking Part, speaking by telephone from a hospital in Barahona, where some of the injured were taken.

The flood-ravaged area is one of the poorest in the Dominican Republic, a country of 8.5 million people that shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti. The sudden, powerful flooding came after almost continuous rain for the last two weeks.

A police spokesman, Col. Ramon Francisco Rodriguez Sanchez, calling the flooding a "real tragedy," said President Hipolito Mejia had sent a team of doctors and rescue workers to the area, along with food, medicines and other supplies.

"We are coordinating urgent measures to rescue survivors and evacuate people who are in danger," said the director of the country's Civil Defense department, Radhames Lora Salcedo.

He said Air Force and Army helicopters would resume searching for survivors at daybreak on Tuesday.

The heavy rain has cut roads in some parts of the country and crops were reported to be flooded in some northern areas. "We have not been able to do a complete evaluation of damage, as it is still raining in many areas," said Lora Salcedo.

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