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Early tropical rains bring flooding

BY PJ HELLER | KINGSTON, Jamaica | May 24, 2002

"The worst-case scenario is that the rains will continue until Sunday."

—Dean Peart

Island residents, coping with flooded homes, landslides, and impassable roads after heavy rains this week, braced for more wet weather forecast through the weekend.

The deluge, which began Wednesday, dumped up to 8 inches of rain on the island, forcing people from their homes. The hardest hit area was south central Jamaica.

No injuries or deaths were reported. Forecasters said more rain was expected with showers on and off by Sunday. A flash flood warning was issued until 5 a.m. today.

"The worst-case scenario is that the rains will continue until Sunday," said Dean Peart, the minister of labor and social security.

The National Weather Service warned that the low-pressure system in the northwest Caribbean Sea between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands could strengthen and affect Cuba, the Bahamas, and South Florida. "Recent satellite data and surface observations suggest that this system has become a little better organized and some additional development is possible during the Memorial Day weekend," the weather service said. "Several computer models indicate that this system could affect Cuba, the Bahamas, and possibly South Florida over the weekend."

The weather service also predicted an "astronomically high tide" and dangerous surf conditions Thursday night in South Florida as the low-pressure system in the Caribbean collided with a high-pressure system over the eastern U.S.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami planned to send an Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft to investigate the storm later this afternoon. The storm was not expected to develop into a hurricane, forecasters said.

In Jamaica, the parishes of Manchester, Clarendon and St. Catherine were among the hardest hit. Landslides were reported in some areas. Emergency management officials reported a "massive landslide" in Tower Hill.

"The Jamaica Public Service Company has de-energized the line serving the community as they are unable to access downed electricity poles in the area," officials reported.

One home in Kingston was destroyed by fire and another had its roof collapse, according to the Office Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management. More than 10 homes were flooded in the parish of Clarendon southwest of Kingston and dozens of others elsewhere also suffered water damage, it said.

The Jamaican Defense Force and the Jamaica Fire Brigade, along with the Jamaica Constabulary Force, helped rescue residents stranded in their homes.

More than 100 people took refuge in shelters. The Red Cross and The Salvation Army were expected to assist in relief operations. The storm hit the island about one week before the start of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. June 1 was also the start of disaster preparedness month on the island. It was scheduled to kick off Saturday morning with a national church service at the North Street Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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