Sandy gone, Caribbean mourns 43 dead, cleans up

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Hurricane Sandy

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Hurricane Sandy is swirling off toward the U.S. East Coast, leaving the Caribbean to mourn the storm-related deaths of at least 43 people and clean up wrecked homes, felled power lines and fallen tree branches.

While Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas took direct hits from the storm, the majority of deaths and most extensive damage was in impoverished Haiti, where it has rained almost non-stop since Tuesday.

The death toll in Haiti stood at 29 late Friday, but officials worried that the number could rise as searches continued in the country’s ramshackle housing and denuded hillsides that are especially vulnerable to flooding when rains come.

Officials were concerned about a continuing rise in a river in the northern part of the capital, Port-au-Prince. People living nearby in mud-splattered, makeshift settlements kept a wary eye on the rush of muddy water.

“If the river busts its banks, it’s going to create a lot of problems. It might kill a lot of people,” said 51-year-old Seroine Pierre. “If death comes, we’ll accept it. We’re suffering, we’re hungry, and we’re just going to die hungry.”

Officials reported flooding across Haiti, where 370,000 people are still living in flimsy shelters as a result of the devastating 2010 earthquake. Nearly 17,800 people had to move to 131 temporary shelters, the Civil Protection Office said.

Among those hoping for a dry place to stay was 35-year-old Iliodor Derisma in Port-au-Prince, who said the storm had caused a lot of anguish.

“It’s wet all my clothes, and all the children aren’t living well,” he said. “We’re hungry. We haven’t received any food. If we had a shelter, that would be nice.”

Officials at a morgue in the western town of Grand Goave said a mudslide crashed through a wooden home Thursday, killing 40-year-old Jacqueline Tatille and her four children, ranging in ages from 5 to 17.

“If the rain continues, for sure we’ll have more people die,” morgue deputy Joseph Franck Laporte said. “The earth cannot hold the rain.”

On Friday, President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe handed out water bottles to dozens of people in a Port-au-Prince neighborhood. They also distributed money to local officials to help clean up the damage.

Sandy left dozens of families homeless across Jamaica when it barreled across the island Wednesday as a Category 1 hurricane. One man was crushed to death by a boulder that tumbled into his house.

The storm then gained strength and hit eastern Cuba as a Category 2 hurricane early Thursday. Eleven people died in Santiago and Guantanamo provinces as wind and rain tore into thousands of homes. Authorities said it was Cuba’s deadliest storm since July 2005, when Category 5 Hurricane Dennis killed 16 people and caused $2.4 billion in damage.

Official news media said the storm caused 5,000 houses to at least partially collapse while 30,000 others lost roofs. Banana, coffee, bean and sugar crops were damaged.

The storm then churned into the Bahamas archipelago, toppling light posts, flooding roads and ripping down tree branches. Police said the British CEO of an investment bank died when he fell from his roof in upscale Lyford Cay late Thursday while trying to repair a window shutter. Officials at Deltec Bank & Trust identified him as Timothy Fraser-Smith, who became CEO in 2000.

Government officials in the Bahamas said the storm appeared to inflict the greatest damage on Cat Island, which took a direct hit, and Exuma.

“I hope that’s it for the year,” said Veronica Marshall, a 73-year-old hotel owner in Great Exuma. “I thought we would be going into the night, but around 3 o’clock it all died down. I was very happy about that.”

On Long Island, farmers lost most of their crops and several roofs were torn off, legislator Loretta Butler-Turner said. The island was without power and many residents did not have access to fresh water, she said.

Power also was out on Acklins Island and most roads there were flooded, while the lone school on Ragged Island in the southern Bahamas was flooded.

In Puerto Rico, police said a man in his 50s died Friday in the southern town of Juana Diaz, swept away in a river swollen by rain from Sandy’s outer bands. Flooding forced at least 100 families in southwestern Puerto Rico to seek shelter.

Authorities in the Dominican Republic evacuated more than 18,100 people after the storm destroyed several bridges and isolated at least 130 communities. Heavy rains and wind also damaged an estimated 3,500 homes.

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Associated Press writers Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Trenton Daniel in Port-au-Prince and Pierre-Richard Luxama in Grand Goave, Haiti; Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana; and Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, contributed to this report.