KINGSTON, Jamaica – Tropical Storm Nicole caused flooding and mudslides across Jamaica on Wednesday, leaving two confirmed dead and at least 12 more missing, even as the drenching system moved north and dissipated over the Florida straits.
The outer bands of the storm hammered Jamaica, toppling bridges and knocking out power to thousands. Many streets were filled with gushing brown torrents of water, prompting Prime Minister Bruce Golding to urge people to stay indoors.
Floodwaters battered squatter communities perched uneasily on the slopes of gullies that crisscross the sprawling capital of Kingston. One slide toppled a house and killed a 14-year-old boy, known to his neighbors as Buju, who was found in a pool of muddy water. The rest of his family — including four sisters, the youngest just 3-years-old — had not been found by Wednesday evening.
"He was a fun boy. He loved to sing, he loved to play football. It's not right, the whole family lost," said Munchie Fuller, a 23-year-old neighbor who watched terrified as a chunk of her own concrete house in Sandy Gully was swept into the raging waters before dawn.
Another resident, Lyndon Bennett, said the people in the shantytown who live along the gully are warned repeatedly to move for their own safety but most refuse to relocate.
"There's not a proper foundation there, the gully is just stone and dirt. People are told not to live there, but when you've got no other options you've just got to make ends meet. It's a real tragedy," said Bennett, who stood behind yellow police tape with about 60 onlookers.
The storm, which had sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph) earlier in the day, broke apart over the Atlantic, though the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami warned that there were still large areas of heavy rain.
Jamaican Information Minister Daryl Vaz said two people were confirmed dead but warned that the toll could be higher from the flash floods and mudslides. He said 12 people were missing.
Emergency shelters were opened and schools closed across the island. Major hospitals were treating only emergency cases. Officials said about 30 percent of the power utility's customers were without power. Some bridges collapsed in the rushing water.
"All in all, there has been a lot of damage done to infrastructure," Vaz said. "It's a serious blow to the country."
In a rural area of St. Elizabeth parish, people told government officials that two farmers in the town of Flagaman were washed away by murky floodwaters and presumed dead. Another man was reportedly swept away while trying to cross rushing Hope River in Kingston.
Floods flattened fields of bananas, scallions and sweet pepper as the storm's outer edges raked the island.
At least three rural towns in St. Thomas parish were isolated due to landslides and three rivers overflowing their banks. Residential areas of the north coast city of Montego Bay were under water, but tourist resorts reported few problems other than minor flooding.
Many Jamaicans were taken by surprise by the ferocity of the rain early Wednesday and the extent of the damage, most of which occurred while the tropical system was classified as a depression.
"It was like rain, rain, then all of a sudden like a big hurricane. I woke up in the middle of the night and it sounded like a waterfall roaring loud," said Kingston resident Tiffany Reid, 14. "I didn't sleep at all after that."
Police in Westmoreland parish's capital of Savanna-la-Mar said the community was hit by a waterspout overnight that ripped the roofs off a couple of buildings and sent four people to a local hospital with scrapes. Residents also reported a possible tornado in Manchester early Wednesday.
Over the last three days, eight inches (20 centimeters) of rain have fallen on the western part of the island and more than seven inches (17.5 centimeters) on the southeast region that includes the sprawling capital of Kingston, said Romayne Robinson, duty forecaster at the Jamaica Meteorological Service.
The storm also soaked Cuba but no deaths were reported.
In Cuba, state-controlled television showed images of rain flooding roads and highways, especially around the eastern city of Santiago, but there were no reports of major damage. Far to the west in Havana, it wasn't even raining and there was no flooding.