Deaths in Jamaica at 5 as rains dumped by Tropical Storm Nicole trigger mudslides, floods

By David Mcfadden, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Death toll rises to 5 in Jamaican floods, slides

KINGSTON, Jamaica — Searchers scoured muddy river banks and debris-clogged gullies for more victims of Tropical Storm Nicole on Thursday as the confirmed death toll in Jamaica from floods and mudslides rose to five.

Rain continued to fall on the capital, Kingston, and emergency workers were trying to locate at least 14 more missing people, about half of whom were believed to have been swept away in landslides that roared through a shantytown. Officials warned the death toll was certain to rise as they rushed to confirm several reports of storm fatalities.

“The numbers will be going up, I’m sure,” said Richard Thompson, the deputy director-general of Jamaica’s disaster management office who put the death toll at five.

The latest death toll included two construction workers who died early Thursday when a shack in an upscale neighborhood in the hills above Kingston collapsed in a landslide triggered by rains on saturated ground, Thompson said. The laborers were sleeping in the shack to save money while working on a client’s house.

Also killed was 5-year-old Tashanna Wallace, who was crushed in a bed when a snapped tree branch broke through the wooden house where she lived with her grandmother in St. Catherine parish.

“She never leave me. Everywhere is me and her,” the Jamaica Observer quoted the grandmother, Jerdene Muir, saying Thursday. “I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”

The storm broke apart over the Atlantic late Wednesday afternoon, but intermittent rains increased the risk of additional slides across the island. Schools and universities stayed closed for a second day, while about 30 percent of those served by Jamaica’s utility company were without power, officials said.

Broken mains and clogged pipes left tens of thousands of people without water service, and residents were increasingly frustrated by long lines for basic necessities. Some bridges had collapsed, complicating relief efforts.

One landslide toppled a two-story concrete shack and killed a 14-year-old boy. Rescuers using heavy equipment had not yet found the rest of his family, which neighbors said included four sisters, the youngest just 3.

Some neighbors who gathered near the destroyed house in Sandy Park Gully said the family was surely dead and voiced frustration that emergency personnel had not yet found their bodies.

“It’s too slow, too slow. They’ve got to get them out,” said George Reid, who gathered with onlookers to watch emergency personnel enter the squatter community.

Authorities said the bodies might have been swept down the gully, which runs to the sea.

The shantytowns are built on unstable banks of gullies where thousands live illegally due to a lack of affordable housing. Authorities were keeping an eye on the murky brown waters that overflowed from the gullies, saying they could still pose a threat to residents.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding told reporters that his government will seek to identify affordable housing options for the thousands of poor islanders who risk their lives by illegally building ramshackle homes along the paved gullies and other dangerous areas.

“What we are going to have to do is see how we can identify solutions that are within their affordability and work out an arrangement with them over time as to how they are going to pay for it. Once we do that then we enforce as vigorously as possible the ‘no build rule,’” he said.

For many years, Jamaican politicians have called for an end to squatter settlements, but little progress has been made. A recent government survey indicated there are nearly 600 informal settlements islandwide, with about 16 percent of the total in Kingston and abutting St. Andrew parish.

While many islanders focused on removing debris and mopping up the water in their homes, others worried about two new tropical waves developing over the Atlantic. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said there was a fair chance the waves could merge and develop into a tropical depression in the next couple of days, though the path of the storm is still unclear.

“I hope this is the end of it,” said Kingston resident Christopher Brown, who was walking to his job at a construction site. “It feels like we’re a punching bag — a big wet punching bag.”

Associated Press Writer Howard Campbell contributed to this report.

will not be displayed