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Daily News - Thursday, 13 December 2007

Official report on Olga and tourism
The Ministry of Tourism and the National Hotel and Restaurant Association (Asonahores) report that tourism areas are operating normally after the passage of Tropical Storm Olga. There was no damage to hotels, and no tourists were hurt. A Ministry of Tourism bulletin indicates that, "there was no damage to infrastructure, or roads leading to hotels, which enabled tourism activities to continue as normal."
Asonahores president Luis Lopez said that Punta Cana, Samana and Puerto Plata are operating normally.
Ernesto Veloz of the Association of Hotels and Tourism Projects of the East said that the storm had not had any significant impact on the Punta Cana area. "The storm passed, there was rain, and today we have had sun, and we expect everything to have returned to normal," he said.
The Ministry of Tourism report says that while there had been rains and winds in Punta Cana, Bavaro, La Romana, Bayahibe, Samana, Puerto Plata, Juan Dolio, Boca Chica and Barahona, these did not put the lives of foreign visitors at risk.
Magaly Toribio, deputy tourism minister for the south-central region, including Boca Chica and Juan Dolio, said that the infrastructure and beaches in those areas had not been affected.
Freddy Felix Isaac, deputy minister for La Romana and Bayahibe said that when the rains stopped on Wednesday, the Navy authorized the resumption of excursions to Saona island.
Ramon Guilamo, deputy tourism minister for Higuey, said that hotels in Bavaro and Punta Cana are operating normally and that tourists were back on the beach on Wednesday enjoying good weather.
Miguel Bezi, deputy minister for Samana, said there is no danger in Samana, where he said the rains and winds had downed trees and road signs in that city.
Bernardita Abbott, deputy minister for the northern region, said that while there had been strong rainstorms, and winds that brought down trees, no hotels or tourists were affected in Cabarete, Sosua or Playa Dorada.
Jose Santana, deputy minister for Barahona in the southwest, reported that while there had been rainfall in the area, Olga did not cause damage to tourism installations.

Schools reopen
The Education Ministry has ordered schools to start back up again after being closed indefinitely due to Tropical Storm Olga. Education Minister Alejandrina German also said that the Christmas vacation would begin on 21 December. UASD dean Roberto Reyna also announced that classes at the university would resume today.

Olga's path & aftermath
Tropical Storm Olga caused one death in Puerto Rico and killed 22 in the DR, has now weakened considerably as it moves its way to Cuba. Meteorological Office (ONAMET) director Gloria Ceballos said that flood warnings are still in effect for La Romana, San Pedro de Macoris, Santo Domingo, the National District, Santiago, Bani, Valverde and Monte Cristi.
The midday bulletin issued by the Emergency Operations Center explains that of the 22 dead, 17 people died in Santiago, three in Mao, one in Espaillat and another in Constanza. The COE is maintaining a red alert for 30 provinces given that more rains are forecast over the next 24 hours. The COE says that 34,480 people have been displaced, 6,215 of whom are being housed in public refuges. The COE is also reporting that 7,594 homes and four bridges were damaged. A total of 137 communities are cut off and 11 irrigation channels suffered damage. Colonel Juan Manuel Mendez said that the Hatillo and Tavera dams have continued to release waters. The deaths that occurred in Santiago are being blamed on the waters released from the Tavera-Bao Dam that caused the Yaque del Norte River to burst its banks.
The country's main dams, Tavera, Valdesia, Sabana Yegua and Hatillo are still at their maximum levels, due to the increased rains over the last couple of months.
COE director Juan Mendez said that rescuers saved people who were stranded on their roofs.
Forty eight percent of the Cibao region was without power yesterday due to damage from TS Olga. State-run Electricity Company administrator Radhames Segura told Listin Diario that they are working on alternative energy sources for the region while brigades work to rectify the problem. Things should be back to normal in Santiago by today, he added.

San Cristobal hit again
The province of San Cristobal has been heavily affected by the second tropical storm in less than two months. Listin Diario writes that four communities in SC have been cut off from the national road system as a result of mudslides and collapsed bridges. Provincial governor Orlando Espinosa said that Los Cacaos, Calderon, Los Jibaros and Los Mineros are completely isolated. Also, Villa Altagracia, El Duey and Sabana Piedra were cut off by high water levels of the Haina River. The rise in the river's water levels led to the collapse of the Juanito Bridge, destroyed the Catarey Bridge and damaged the Cuchilla Bridge. In all, 345 people in the San Cristobal area are being housed in refuges.

Fernandez promises help
President Leonel Fernandez visited Santiago yesterday and promised to rebuild all the houses damaged by TS Olga. The President said the deaths and material losses were a great tragedy and added that Olga demonstrates the effects of global warming and climate change. Fernandez said that he visited Santiago to ensure that victims were receiving aid and immediately instructed the Presidential Social Plan to provide victims with blankets, mattresses, food and other basics. Fernandez, while making his way through the Gregorio Urbano Gilbert sports complex housing 1,000 refugees said, "what has happened is a tragedy, but with the government's efforts, with the Church's efforts and with the participation of civil society which is working with us, in no time things will go back to normal and you will return to your homes and in this way we will overcome this situation."

Tragedies could have been prevented
According to some engineers, the tragedy caused by TS Olga could have been prevented. Geologist Osiris de Leon and Engineer Petra Moreta, former director of Civil Works maintenance, both agree that the Tavera dam was opened too late. De Leon says that the gates should have been opened when the dam was receiving 500 to 600 cubic meters of water per second. He said the authorities underestimated the amount of rain Olga would bring. Moreta says that the dam should have been open since Sunday to make space for the incoming water. However, the director of the Hydraulic Resources Institute (INDRHI) Hector Rodriguez, quoted in Hoy, justified the later opening of the Tavera dam and said that otherwise a catastrophe would have occurred.
Rodriguez, quoted in Diario Libre, said that water levels in the dam were falling and that as from 11pm on Tuesday the dam was receiving 6,670 cubic meters per second. He added that this was the only option for preventing a full collapse. Rodriguez says that members of the Civil Defense began warning citizens and urging evacuations at 7pm. Listin Diario quotes Rodriguez as dismissing some criticisms that implied that the dam opening had more to do with the flooding than the actual rains. He said that the dams had been opened gradually since Monday and added that in just three hours the dam received 51 million cubic meters of water, and officials only released 25 million cubic meters during that same period. He says that the INDHRI is able to demonstrate that officials did the right thing.
Political opponents criticized the move and said that the residents of Santiago should have been notified about the dam opening earlier. Hoy reports that 300,000 people in Santiago and Puerto Plata are still without power.

Public Health issues warning
The Ministry of Public Health is warning families to avoid bathing in waters that may have been contaminated by the flooding and to boil water and treat drinking water with chlorine. The warning was issued by Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas during a visit to Santiago. Health ministry officials distributed meningitis and flu vaccines to flood victims, prisoners and inhabitants of low-lying barrios. The Minister explained that over the next few days officials will be on the lookout for gastrointestinal diseases, and that after eight days diseases like malaria and dengue could begin to appear.

Is the JCE being inconsiderate?
Central Electoral Board (JCE) administrative president Roberto Rosario says that the damage caused by TS Noel and TS Olga should not affect the funding the government has designated for the JCE because according to him the country "must continue to exist." Rosario says that the 2008 presidential elections are a national priority and feels that President Leonel Fernandez will still approve the RD$100 million designation. These funds will complete the RD$200 million which Fernandez had promised the JCE. As for the RD$7.7 billion which the JCE has asked for to stage the 2008 elections, and other projects, Rosario says that it's not too much money because as well as an election year, it is a year in which 20 mobile registration centers, with 10 employees each, the National Electoral School and the Civil Registry programs will be put in place. Quoted in Hoy, he said that the JCE would use this money to complete unfinished projects and added that all these require new employees.

Debt and power eat up budget
Economic, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas has revealed that the external debt and the subsidy for the energy sector will take up RD$91 billion of the 2008 budget. The energy sector alone has an RD$21 billion subsidy. Montas added that at the end of this four-year presidential period a total of RD$110 billion will have been designated to the energy and liquid gas (GLP) subsidies. The minister said that the serious problems plaguing the energy sector have required an RD$15 billion subsidy in the last three years, and that all sectors need to pull together to solve them.

Anadegas challenges diesel subsidy
The National Gasoline Retailers Association (ANADEGAS) has filed charges of unconstitutionality against a decree passed by President Leonel Fernandez that provides a three-month subsidy for freight and passenger transport to selected transporters. ANADEGAS president Juan Ignacio Espaillat and his lawyer Robert Valdez say that Decree 677-07 violate articles 4, 37, 45, 46, 47, 55 and 100 of the Constitution as well as Hydrocarbon Law 112-00 and Law 557-05 on tributary ratification. Espaillat says that the government, through the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and the Ministry of Hacienda have covertly granted 83 licenses. The charges argue that the decree will lead to serious problems and create moral and economic damage in the sale of fuels and to fuel sellers. Espaillat, quoted in Diario Libre, said that the decree affects the rights of ANADEGAS members and affects the moral and economic security of the union's members.

Orange Dominicana invests
Frederic Debord, president of Orange Dominicana, says that his company, a subsidiary of France Telecom, has invested US$700 million in its seven years of service in the DR. Debord says that in 2007 alone Orange invested US$120 million in its Dominican infrastructure. The money has been spent on developing its phone network and setting up telecommunications aerials. The company president also announced that the company's revenue reached US$550 million in 2007. Orange has a 42% share of the cellular phone market with a total of 1.9 million users. However, the company is not interested in taking a larger market share opting instead to become the preferred cellular service among Dominicans. Orange directly employs 1,000 workers and indirectly employs 5,000 people.

Aventura and Juan Luis nominated
Dominican music stars Aventura and Juan Luis Guerra have been nominated for five Lo Nuestro Awards. Also, the bachata group Xtreme 4, made up of Dominicans from New York, was nominated four times, Ilegales and Monchy & Alexandra were nominated twice and Tono Rosario received one nomination. Guerra has been nominated for Album of the Year, Male Artist of the Year and Tropical Merengue Artist. He has also been nominated for Rock Song of the Year, for "Que me des tu carino," and "Bendita tu luz." Aventura was also nominated for Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Group of the Year and Artist of the Year.

Horford visits Ford
Diario Libre writes that Dominican-born Atlanta Hawks rookie power forward Al Horford has been to visit Toronto Raptors point guard T.J. Ford at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. Ford was on the receiving end of a vicious hit by Horford during a game on Tuesday night. The incident occurred as the six-foot guard Ford charged hard for a right-handed lay-up. As he jumped towards the basket, Horford trailed behind and swatted at Ford, hitting the guard in the face. Ford fell to the ground and his head rebounded off of the hardwood floor. Ford left the game in obvious pain. Horford was given a flagrant foul, ejected from the game and could be fined by the NBA. The rookie defended himself by saying he was not a dirty player.
See: www.ajc.com/sports/content/sports/hawks/stories/...
 
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