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Daily News - Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Noel continues to affect DR
The Emergency Operations Center (COE) reports that at least 11 people have died as a result of winds and torrential rainfall brought by the large and slow-moving Tropical Storm Noel. Thirteen people are reported missing. Other reports indicate that as many as 21 people may be dead, and the number of people missing may be as high as 33. COE head General Luis Luna Paulino reports that most Dominican provinces are still under red alert. A red alert warning is still in effect for the National District and the province of Santo Domingo, San Cristobal, Peravia, Azua, Barahona, Pedernales, Independencia, Baoruco and San Juan, while a yellow alert is still in affect for Santiago, Puerto Plata, Espaillat, Salcedo, Duarte (especially for Bajo Yuna), Maria Trinidad Sanchez, La Vega, Monte Plata, Monsenor Nouel, Hato Mayor (Sabana de la Mar), El Seibo (Miches), Sanchez Ramirez, Dajabon, Montecristi, Santiago Rodriguez, La Altagracia and San Pedro de Macoris. Diario Libre estimates that 3,295 people have been displaced from their homes, with about 2,855 staying with other family members and 1,010 finding refuge at government shelters. The rains, which have been falling since Friday, have been relentlessly heavy and are expected to continue through Wednesday, according to ONAMET. Newspaper reports tell of major damage to the Bani highway, as a result of the Nizao River flooding. Hoy reports that at least 20 bridges across the country have been affected by the storms leaving many cities cut off from rescue efforts. The bridges over the Yuna and Yoboa rivers in Bonao, Maimon in Piedra Blanca and Madre Vieja Sur in San Cristobal were all affected by the storm, making transit almost impossible. Residents of riverside communities were worst affected by flooding.
The storm caught the country by surprise because it developed from a tropical depression on Saturday morning to a tropical storm by 2pm on Sunday, when few people were tuned to news programs. The gusting winds and torrential rains started hitting the Dominican Republic late on Sunday evening, falling on soil that was already saturated by previous rainfall. Tropical storms outside the September peak period are rare in the Caribbean. Gloria Ceballos, director of the Weather Department (ONAMET) attributed the untimely storm to climate change.

Schools still closed
The Ministry of Education has announced the suspension of primary and secondary school classes until Wednesday due to the torrential rains. Some public schools are being used to shelter the families that were evacuated from flooded areas. The state university also ordered its regional campuses to shut down until Wednesday.

Noel causes general blackout
Tropical Storm Noel was responsible for two more national blackouts yesterday, the third in as many days. In the early hours of Sunday morning the entire country was plunged into a two-hour blackout. Diario Libre reports that a general blackout was registered yesterday at 12:56am and that a second was registered at 1:45pm. Hoy reports that during the blackouts, 240 of the country's total 540 circuits were out of service, for a total of 40% of the grid. The national blackouts delayed some of the rescue and recovery efforts. Radhames Segura, administrator of the State Run Electricity Companies (CDEEE) explained that at 11am yesterday morning the system was still recovering and that it was only producing 670MW with a demand of 1,800MW. Segura explained that it was an energy distribution problem and that the energy infrastructure did not suffer any major damages.
Diario Libre writes that the country's energy sector, along with emergency relief efforts, will continue to work non-stop until the system is back to normal. Despite the fact that some communities have begun to receive power, most of the country's 500 energy circuits are still disconnected. This has been done in order to prevent tragedies due to high voltage shocks and irregular connections.

Government gets its act together
After being caught off guard with the almost sudden and unexpected arrival of Tropical Storm Noel, the government is getting its act together to organize relief efforts throughout the country. Yesterday President Leonel Fernandez met with the heads of the country's emergency relief organizations to discuss strategies for delivering supplies, food and all the help necessary for people who have been affected by the storms. The President instructed the National Emergencies Commission to remain in permanent session until the situation has been stabilized.
Public Works Minister Victor Diaz Rua explained that most of the damage caused by Noel has been in the provinces of Monsenor Nouel, San Cristobal and San Jose de Ocoa, although he did add that large parts of the rest of the country had also been affected.
Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas explained that additional beds and equipment are being sent to hospitals in those locations to meet with the demand and that in each province the Epidemiological Watch System has been enacted. He also announced the launch of a campaign reminding people to ensure that water is boiled and filtered before use in order to reduce the spread of dangerous water-borne diseases.

Noel affects telephone service
Tropical Storm Noel brought down telephone services in the southwestern provinces of the DR. Claro-Codetel, Tricom and Centennial have all reported problems with services for their clients. The Dominican Telecommunications Institute says that it hopes that all phone and Internet lines will be back to normal by today. The problems arose when a Codetel antenna was knocked down, but Indotel president Jose Rafael Vargas said that LAN lines were still functioning in Barahona, as well as the Internet service. Vargas explained that repairs were halted due to the collapse of a bridge in Paya, Bani.

Noel takes toll on agriculture
Hoy is reporting that the strong winds and rains of TS Noel have damaged rice, banana, plantain, onion and cassava crops in the DR. Agriculture Minister Salvador Jimenez said that flooding also affected sweet potatoes and other vegetables in several regions. Plantations in Azua, San Juan, Barahona, Monsenor Nouel, Sanchez Ramirez, La Vega and San Jose de Ocoa have been affected by the storm. Listin Diario quotes Jimenez saying that 95% of these crops have been ruined and that the losses will amount to millions.

Flights at AILA resume
Flights at Las Americas International Airport were resumed yesterday after storm Noel made it too dangerous for planes to leave the DR on Sunday. The delays and flight cancellations left many passengers stranded at the airports. Likewise, several flights from Puerto Rico did not made it into the DR on Sunday. Departing flights were canceled in the early hours of the morning, but Diario Libre writes that at around noon some flights began to take off and land at the airport and that the larger airlines like Delta, Jet Blue and American continued their regular service. Smaller airlines like American Eagle, Cubana, Air Caribbean and Aserca had to cancel their flights because their routes flew directly over the storm area.
Tropical Storm Noel did cause the suspension of several excursions in tourist areas, and in several areas, authorities were working on picking up fallen trees. Otherwise, the storm had little effect on tourism installations where tourists waited out the storm indoors.

Dominicans in Miami will help
The Consulting Council for Dominicans in Florida is among the institutions that are offering to help Dominicans in the wake of Tropical Storm Noel. Jose Zaiter, president of the organization, said that his members would meet today in order to organize a strategy. Also, Angel Aguasvivas, president of the Dominican Medical Association's Miami branch explained that their members were waiting to see what supplies and services are needed before sending help.

More drug mules caught
A woman, Antia Celeida Javier de los Santos, was caught with 14 packets of cocaine as she tried to board a flight to Madrid on Sunday. Airport officials say that Deimon Jonathan Pimentel Lebron was caught with 77 packets of drugs in his stomach as he was trying to board a flight to Holland. Both were detained at Puerto Plata airport. Pimentel explained that he had "rented out" his stomach in order to transport the drugs, but officials didn't say how much he was paid. Officials are now trying to find out who recruited Pimentel.

The DR has a volleyball league
The new Dominican Volleyball League will be inaugurated on 17 November with 16 teams from provinces across the country. Ramon Alexis Garcia, president of the Dominican Volleyball Federation, made the announcement yesterday. Garcia says that the league will be competitive and that members from the national team will be distributed evenly among the 16 teams. The league will have a RD$2.5 million budget, and will be made up of eight male and eight female teams. The two teams that win the tournament will represent the DR in the Norceca Tournament of Club Champions in PR. Garcia says that there is a lot of enthusiasm for the league.
 
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