November 2, 2007 / 1:20 AM / 11 years ago

UPDATE 2-Dominican Republic appeals for help after floods

(Updates totals of dead, missing, displaced)

By Manuel Jimenez

SANTO DOMINGO, Nov 1 (Reuters) - The Dominican Republic appealed for international help to cope with devastating floods from Tropical Storm Noel that killed at least 73 people in the country, while troops sought on Thursday to evacuate people living under dams that authorities feared could overflow.

Military helicopters and river patrol boats rescued people stranded by floods and mudslides caused by three days of heavy rainfall.

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.

By Thursday night, 73 deaths had been confirmed and dozens of people were missing after chest-high floodwaters surged across large swaths of the country, sweeping away thousands of houses and driving more than 64,000 people out of their homes.

Authorities in Haiti, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, said the storm, which became a hurricane on Thursday night, had taken 34 lives there.

One of the worst incidents 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 about 200 houses. Survivors said up to 35 bodies were seen on the river banks there.

The floods triggered by days of unrelenting rain from Noel, which blew northeastward over the Bahamas on Thursday before moving toward Bermuda, also destroyed 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.

Fernandez appealed to other countries to send helicopters to help the Dominican Republic rescue people stranded in isolated villages.

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