U.S. and French aid teams joined overwhelmed Dominican officials Friday in trying to feed the hungry and thirsty survivors of Hurricane Georges, which killed more than 300 in the Caribbean.
In a broad landscape of flooding north of the capital of Santo Domingo, villages became islands surrounded by miles of muddy floodwaters. Victims frantically waved as rescue aircraft flew overhead.Eight hundred people swarmed around a Dominican air force helicopter when it tried to land Friday on an island in the town of Matamomon. Its three-man crew kicked off desperate people trying to climb aboard and tossed food rations to those screaming on the ground below.
Food and water stocks ran perilously low after Georges struck here Tuesday, bringing 110 mph winds that destroyed 90 percent of the nation's food crops.
"In the shelters people are hungry, thirsty and in bad conditions sanitary-wise. The food stocks will be used up pretty quickly," said Rodger Garner, a program officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
A U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane landed in Santo Domingo with enough plastic tarpaulins to roof 2,000 houses. Sixty-three search and rescue firefighters from New York were being flown in, while a French C-130 also delivered disaster specialists, food and medical aid.
Paul Bell, U.S. AID's regional disaster relief director, said it was the first of an extensive airlift of food, animal feed and other aid.
Bell warned that people sick with water-borne diseases, such as dengue fever, "will overload the hospital system, which was never very good anyway."
Georges' Caribbean death toll topped 300, with at least 210 dead in the Dominican Republic, 87 in Haiti, three in Puerto Rico, three in St. Kitts, two in Antigua and two in Cuba.