Flooding forces 20,000 to evacuate in the Dominican Republic

A sewage worker clears a sewer in a street flooded by the rains of Hurricane Matthew, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Oct. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Ezequiel Abiu Lopez)

More than 20,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes in the Dominican Republic by torrential rain and flooding, and meteorologists say another tropical storm is already on the horizon.

The mass displacement comes less than two months after Hurricane Matthew struck the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, destroying 90 percent of southern Haiti and leading to hundreds of deaths. While the Dominican Republic suffered less damage relative to its western neighbor, the country still had fatalities and more than 800 evacuees.

Now, two weeks of interrupted rains in the Dominican Republic have rendered 131 small towns inaccessible after nearby rivers overflowed and flooded more than 4,000 homes, Juan Manuel Méndez, coordinator of the Dominican Emergency Operations Center, told Voice of America Monday. So far, five deaths, including two children, have been reported.

In response, the President Danilo Medina declared a national emergency for the eight provinces most affected and met with governors and relief agencies to expedite aid to the hardest hit regions.

The rains have also caused landslides that have damaged and destroyed homes and blocked access to many bridges and roads.

“No one should cross rivers by car, on foot, and much less swim across them,” Méndez told AP. People living along rivers or on hillsides have also been warned to be extra vigilant of flash floods and landslides.

The areas that sustained the worst damage are in the provinces Puerto Plata, Espaillat and Maria Trinidad Sánchez, around the northern coast of the country. Some officials predict that the destruction will cost millions of dollars in every aspect of the Dominican economy, including the agricultural sector, because some of the hardest hit provinces are also the country’s biggest rice producers.

Meteorologists say the heavy downpours are linked to two weather depressions that have hit the country consecutively over the last several weeks. More rains are expected for the weekend, and a new tropical storm is expected to develop in the Caribbean over the next seven to 10 days.

The recent floods are not the first to impact people in the Dominican Republic this year. Hispaniola was struck with severe flooding in May, when powerful storms dropped rainfall at a rate of almost 11.8 inches per hour, according to NASA.

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, 21.8 million people have been displaced by sudden extreme weather around the world every year since 2008.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com