Rescuers search for Jamaica's flood victims

Rescuers scoured muddy riverbanks and debris-clogged gullies for more victims of Tropical Storm Nicole today as the confirmed death toll in Jamaica from floods and mudslides rose to five.

Rain continued to fall on the capital Kingston and emergency workers were trying to locate at least 14 more missing people, about half of whom were believed to have been swept away in landslides that roared through a shanty town.

Officials warned the death toll was certain to rise as they rushed to confirm several reports of storm fatalities.

“The numbers will be going up, I’m sure,” said Richard Thompson, deputy director-general of Jamaica’s disaster management office, who put the death toll at five.

The latest death toll included two building workers who died yesterday when a shack in an wealthy neighbourhood in the hills above Kingston collapsed in a landslide triggered by rains on saturated ground. They were sleeping in the shack to save money while working on a client’s house.

Also killed was five-year-old Tashanna Wallace, who was crushed in a bed when a snapped tree branch broke through the wooden house where she lived with her grandmother in St Catherine parish.

“She never leave me. Everywhere is me and her,” her grandmother, Jerdene Muir, told the Jamaica Observer. “I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”

The storm broke apart over the Atlantic on Wednesday, but intermittent rains increased the risk of additional slides across the island.

Schools and universities stayed closed for a second day, while about 30% of those served by Jamaica’s utility company were without power.

Broken mains and clogged pipes left tens of thousands of people without water and residents were increasingly frustrated by long lines for basic necessities. Some bridges had collapsed, complicating relief efforts.

One landslide toppled a concrete shack and killed a 14-year-old boy. Rescuers had not yet found the rest of his family, which neighbours said included four sisters, the youngest just three.

Some neighbours who gathered near the destroyed house in Sandy Park Gully voiced frustration that emergency personnel had not yet found their bodies.

“It’s too slow, too slow. They’ve got to get them out,” said George Reid, who gathered to watch emergency crews enter the squatter community.

The shanty towns are built on unstable banks of gullies where thousands live illegally due to a lack of affordable housing. Authorities were keeping an eye on the murky brown waters that overflowed from the gullies, saying they could still pose a threat to residents.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding said his government would seek to identify affordable housing options for the thousands of poor islanders who risk their lives by illegally building ramshackle homes along the paved gullies and other dangerous areas.

A recent government survey indicated there were nearly 600 informal settlements island-wide, with about 16% of the total in Kingston.

While many islanders focused on removing debris and mopping up the water in their homes, others worried about two new tropical waves developing over the Atlantic.

The US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said there was a fair chance the waves could merge and develop into a tropical depression in the next couple of days, though the path of the storm was still unclear.

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