Science and TechNatural Disasters


1 dead, 1 missing as Tropical Storm Franklin hits Dominican Republic

Officials are most concerned about Franklin's impact in Haiti, which is vulnerable to catastrophic flooding given the country's severe erosion.
People walk through a street flooded by the rains of Tropical Storm Franklin in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Posted at 9:28 AM, Aug 23, 2023

Tropical Storm Franklin unleashed heavy floods and landslides in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday after making landfall in the country's southern region, killing at least one person and injuring two others.

Franklin was expected to swirl for most of the day above the island of Hispaniola, which the Dominican Republic shares with Haiti. Forecasters warned the storm could dump up to 12 inches of rain in the Dominican Republic, with a maximum of 16 inches in isolated areas. Meanwhile, up to 4 inches of rain are forecast for Haiti, with nearly 8 inches for the country's eastern regions.

"The population of the Dominican Republic must all be right now, without exception, in their homes, the homes of friends and family, or in shelters," said Juan Manuel Méndez, emergency operations director.

The Civil Defense identified the man killed as Carlos Marino Martínez, saying he died in the city of San Cristobal after being swept away by floodwaters. The agency initially said he was one of its volunteers, but later corrected the information saying it misidentified a uniform he was wearing. They did not provide further details. Two women in that city were injured following a landslide and were hospitalized, officials said.

More than 300 people in the Dominican Republic were huddled in shelters, while emergency operations officials said they were looking for a 54-year-old man with mental health problems who went missing after he jumped into a creek late Tuesday. Another 280 people were evacuated from their homes to safer ground, with at least six communities cut off by heavy rains, officials said.

The storm also downed several trees and at least two light posts, with dozens of homes affected by floods that turned streets into rushing rivers. Authorities said the roof of one home in San Cristobal collapsed, as did walls of various buildings around the country.

"There's a lot of damage," Méndez said.

Meanwhile, authorities in neighboring Puerto Rico, which also was hit by Franklin's rain, were searching for two scuba divers missing south of the U.S. territory in waters churned up by the storm.

The U.N.'s World Food Program warned Wednesday that some 125,000 people in the Dominican Republic are living in areas that "are extremely vulnerable to landslides and flash floods because they live in poor, overcrowded settlements near rivers, creeks, and lagoons."

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Hércules Urbáez, a 41-year-old father of six who lives in the city of Barahona, where Franklin made landfall, said he and his family went to his mother's house for safety.

"People have refused to leave," he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, the storm was centered about 40 miles south of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It had maximum winds of 40 mph with higher gusts and was moving northward at 13 mph.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Harold weakened into a tropical depression Tuesday night after making landfall in South Texas, bringing strong winds and rain and leaving thousands of homes without power.

In the Caribbean, officials were most concerned about Franklin's impact in Haiti, which is vulnerable to catastrophic flooding given the country's severe erosion.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry had urged Haitians on Tuesday to stock up on water, food and medication as authorities checked on some of the more than 200,000 people displaced by gang violence, with some living on the street or in makeshift shelters.

Some recalled how a powerful thunderstorm that unleashed heavy rains one day in June left more than 40 people dead across Haiti.

In the Dominican Republic, officials shuttered schools, government agencies and several airports with at least 25 of the country's 31 provinces under red alert. On Wednesday, more than 400,000 customers were without power, and dozens of aqueducts were out of service because of heavy rains, affecting more than 1.3 million customers.

Flooding already had been reported on Tuesday in the capital of Santo Domingo and beyond, where residents prepared for heavy rainfall.

"We're scared of the river," said Doralisa Sánchez, a government employee who lives near the Ozama River that divides the capital and has had to flee her home three times during previous storms.

Sánchez hoped Franklin wouldn't force her to seek shelter and temporarily abandon her home because she said people steal belongings left behind.

Others, like businesswoman Albita Achangel, worried they had nowhere to go if the waters started rising.

"We are hoping for God's will," she said, adding that her patio was already flooded.

The storm worried thousands of Dominicans who live in flood-prone areas.

"When two drops of water fall here, this suddenly becomes flooded," said Juan Olivo Urbáez, who owns a small business in a community near the Ozama River.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for the entire southern coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, as well as the entire northern Dominican coast. The government of the Bahamas also issued a tropical storm warning for the Turks and Caicos Islands, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Franklin is the seventh named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. An eighth named storm, Gert, dissipated on Tuesday.

On Aug. 10, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration updated its forecast and warned that this year's hurricane season would be above normal. Between 14 to 21 named storms are forecast. Of those, 6 to 11 could become hurricanes, with 2 to 5 of them possibly becoming major hurricanes.