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Daily News - Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Noel's toll
Bulletin No. 8 from the Emergency Operations Center (COE) tells of at least 41 dead, 20 missing, over 50,000 evacuated and over 14,500 people in refugee centers, 39 communities cut off by flood waters, and 12,636 houses affected by the flooding. The COE is maintaining a Red Alert for most of the Dominican territory. Only La Romana, Valverde and Samana are not mentioned. Small craft have been advised to stay in port.
The COE is particularly worried about the Lower Yuna Valley where more flooding is expected. The 5,884 people in shelters are part of 25,656 displaced from their homes by the flooding. More than 500 rescue operations have taken place, many in Manoguayabo, Santo Domingo province. The COE also notes that the Lower Yuna, San Juan de la Maguana and Azua areas are particularly vulnerable and small boats have been sent to the most vulnerable areas.
Radhames Segura, the vice-president of the State-run Electricity Companies (CDEEE) reported that the electricity service had been restored to most of the country. A total of 152 circuits of the 510 circuits nationwide are reported to be out of service.
Agriculture Minister Salvador Jimenez told reporters from Hoy that it was not yet possible to calculate the level of damage to crops. Felix Garcia, a major figure in the tomato processing industry, told reporters that just about the entire tomato crop has been lost to the floods, but he held out hope that there was still time to replant the land and avoid having to import tomato paste and ketchup.

COE: Noel came too fast for us
The president of the Emergency Operations Center (COE) and the head of the weather office have provided explanations for the way in which Noel took the country by complete surprise. COE head Luis Luna Paulino told reporters from Listin Diario that these storms normally form outside the Antilles, and this gives the COE as many as five or six days to prepare. Luna Paulino told reporters that he could tell them a bunch of lies but the real problem was simple: logistics. For the Meteorological Office (Onamet) the immediate distribution of their report is easy. For the COE it means getting up at 1am and preparing a bulletin and then distributing the bulletin to the area covered by the Red Alert. This is what they did, but when they received the bulletin on the 27th, it referred to a tropical depression which by the next day would become a tropical storm. (Onamet reported the tropical depression on the 27th at 11:15pm, and by 5pm on the 28th it was named Tropical Storm Noel. This was an 18-hour window).
According to Luna Paulino, Noel started as a Green Alert on Friday 26 October, and the COE advised its provincial committees to prepare small reactive teams of 10-100 persons, according to the size of the area. On 27 October the Yellow Alert was issued and the COE contacted the provincial governors and the regional Civil Defense officials. On 28 October, when Noel was declared a tropical storm, the head of the COE activated the entire Emergency Operations Committee, called the media, and proclaimed a Red Alert. The general told reporters, " In the morning the provincial and municipal officials were mobilizing their people, and when the Red Alert went out it was Sunday afternoon. They went out looking for their volunteers. Listen, it was Sunday afternoon, even wars are halted on Sunday afternoon... It is a human thing, the people disconnect." Luna Paulino ended by saying that his people had to do everything on the hoof, and by Monday they had things organized. This time "they could not get ahead of the storm, so instead they had to go after it."

Bani-Azua road re-opened
The road between Bani and Azua has been reopened after emergency repairs were carried out. According to El Caribe, other main routes are still in bad shape, particularly the road between Las Barias and Pizarrete and the one that connects Pizarrete and Bani. The newspaper also reports that the bridge over the Jura River was destroyed, impeding traffic from reaching Barahona and San Juan de la Maguana.

Most blackouts were in EdeSur
Most of the blackouts suffered during Tropical Storm Noel were in the area served by power distributors EdeSur in the south and south west of the country. Damage to power lines and sub-stations was blamed for the outages. The damage has kept 59% of the EdeSur circuits out of service, according to CDEEE vice-president Radhames Segura. Segura told reporters from Diario Libre that EdeSur had 67 circuits in service and 95 out of service. EdeNorte was reported to have 23 of its 147 circuits out of service, and EdeEste had 34 or its 168 circuits out of service. Segura also explained that they had experienced difficulties reaching problem areas in Bani and the south west due to the road conditions. In Barahona there is a problem with a transformer and there are issues at the substation that feeds the Pizarrete-Bani line.

Sunny days may be coming
Weather reports from Puerto Rico substantiate eyewitness reports from Punta Cana where the sun is shining again. The large system that has brought gusts on Sunday and heavy rain through Wednesday seems to be moving northwards and is expected to lift from the Dominican Republic tomorrow. Reports from La Romana and Punta Cana are that the weather has cleared. Meanwhile, Santo Domingo, central areas and the southwest were drenched with rain early on Wednesday morning. Nevertheless, there are forecasts that the day will clear by tomorrow afternoon. At noontime, it was no longer raining in Santo Domingo.
The storm has primarily affected people who travel to work using public transportation and motoconchos, and the poor who live in vulnerable areas near rivers or hillsides. Solidarity is being called for to help those who have experienced flooding and property losses. Practically everyone seems to know someone whose house has been flooded.
See www.tormenta.net
ONAMET says that the additional rain was the result of a tropical wave located to the south of Puerto Rico that is moving at 30 kms an hour. Thus authorities are maintaining the Red Alert for 27 provinces. For the coast, small craft warnings continue in place, as waves of between six and eight feet are expected.

INDRHI recommends evacuations
The National Institute for Hydraulic Resources (INDRHI) is recommending that people living in low-lying areas should be evacuated. The recommendation comes at a time when water levels in several dams are reaching the maximum limit, specifically the Hatillo Dam and the dam at Sabana Yegua in Azua. In the case of the dams, Hector Rodriguez Pimentel, the head of INDRHI, told Diario Libre reporters that while all of the nation's dams are releasing water, the most critical areas are Sabana Yegua where at 6 o'clock yesterday afternoon the dam was receiving 3,150 cubic meters of water per second and was discharging 520 cubic meters per second in order to prevent causing damage downstream. The dam is designed to hold water up to the 400-meter mark and it is currently at the 398.3-meter level. Rodriguez said that his office has sent these recommendations to the COE. Rodriguez also told reporters that the Rio Yaque del Sur was still within its banks but that it could spill over at any time. INDRHI added that the Hatillo Dam was releasing 513 cubic meters per second and warned of flooding in the Lower Yuna River Basin.

Phone service restored in south west
Telecommunications companies Centennial and Tricom have announced that they managed to restore phone service in the south west of the Dominican Republic. Jose Rafael Vargas, the head of the Dominican Telecommunications Institute (INDOTEL) told reporters from Listin Diario that these two companies had resolved their problems and that Claro Codetel was working of some problems with telecommunications in the south west. The problem was caused when an antenna was knocked down by TS Noel. According to Vargas, "Claro Codetel has set up a provisional antenna to correct the problem."

CAASD working to bring water
The Santo Domingo Water Authority (CAASD) reports that work brigades are out in force trying to re-establish a full water supply as soon as possible. Because of the flooding and the pollutants carried in the rivers that supply Santo Domingo, the CAASD had closed several supply lines as a preventive measure. Some of the well fields were also without water as a result of the lack of electricity. Valdesia, Haina-Manoguayabo and La Isabela were just three of the systems that were closed as a precautionary measure. Due to the muddy condition of the water in the Haina-Manoguayabo watershed, the CAASD is expecting to take at least 48 hours to reestablish the system.

DGII gives extension to Thursday
The Tax Department (DGII) extended through Thursday the renewal period for license plates to accommodate vehicle owners who were not able to renew their plates due to the effects of Noel on Monday and Tuesday. The DGII office did not apply penalties on Wednesday as had been warned, as reported in Diario Libre.

Public Health takes steps
With the passing of Tropical Storm Noel, the Ministry of Public Health is taking steps to prevent an outbreak of illnesses. According to reports in Hoy, the minister has warned the public to be extra cautious and to be on the lookout for possible outbreaks of diseases such as cholera. The minister also instructed evacuees to be vaccinated for tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio and measles, as well as meningitis. The ministry is also launching a program of controlling mosquitoes and other vectors.

LPG ship aground in SPM
The cargo ship Tomsk, which belongs to Swiss company Georgas Trading, was damaged after unloading LPG (Propane) at the Coastal installation in San Pedro de Macoris. Coastal Petroleum Dominicana, S.A., confirmed the ship's plight, and said that the situation has kept the vessel from continuing its trip to the Dominican Refinery in Haina. Although the vessel is near the Coastal facilities in San Pedro de Macoris, the situation does not put the local population at any risk, according to the Coastal spokesperson. Salvage equipment is in place and units of the Dominican and United States Coast Guard are assisting in the operation, as well as equipment from the Titan Company from Florida. The Tomsk is a new ship with a double hull, which reduces the risk of an oil spill. Coastal are also guaranteeing a normal propane gas supply.

DR rejects UN report
Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso has blasted the report submitted by two human rights activists that visited the DR last week. Morales Troncoso's comments were echoed by Presidential Legal Advisor Cesar Pina Toribio. In separate statements, they agreed that the report was biased. Morales Troncoso said that the observers had come with their report already written. Doudou Diene (who is married to a Haitian woman) and Gay McDougall (member of the committee that gave Sonia Pierre the Kennedy Award for her activisim in favor of Haitian migrants) were considered to have been biased in their reporting. Sonia Pierre advocates that all children of foreigners born in the Dominican Republic be granted Dominican nationality.
Morales Troncoso said that this was "not a surprise for us that without knowing our reality these observers could produce this diagnostic in just a few days, because we know what is behind this."
The visitors concluded that while there is not a racist official policy, there is profound racism in the DR against Haitians, their descendents and negros.
Morales said, as reported in Diario Libre: "Our border with Haiti has its problems, but it is our reality and needs to be understood. It is important not to confuse national sovereignty with indifference, and security with xenophobia," said Morales. He said the DR has a long tradition of upholding human rights and would be proud to compare its track record with any other country. He said the statement of the visitors does not necessarily mean it is the truth, especially under Dominican laws. He pointed out the opportunities Haitians have found for jobs in construction, agriculture and other services in the DR. Meanwhile, he said the country would continue to seek that Haiti receives the treatment it deserves from the international community. And that the DR would continue to extend its solidarity to brother Haitians.

Corripio awards prizes
Amid the many difficulties facing the nation at this time, the Corripio Foundation announced this year's National Prizes. The prize for Social Sciences was awarded to Father Jose Luis Aleman, the Jesuit economist who heads the Economics Department at PUCMM in Santo Domingo. The prize for Art was awarded to architect Eugenio Perez Montas for his work in urban planning and the restoration of the Colonial Zone. The prize for Science went to Idelisa Bonnelly Peralta for her work in Marine Biology and her defense of marine biological diversity. The Corripio Prize for Journalism went to Francisco Comarazamy, who has worked as a journalist for more than 60 years.
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