Stranded for days by fallen bridges and washed-out roads, hurricane victims waded into subsiding floodwaters to guide the first relief trucks into this western Dominican town.
San Juan de la Maguana had been incommunicado since Sept. 22, when rain from Hurricane Georges caused floodwaters to crash through this town of 20,000, swallowing up shantytowns along the San Juan River.Flooding was aggravated when workers at a dam upstream opened floodgates to relieve pressure on the dam.
The Red Cross put the death toll in San Juan de la Maguana, 75 miles west of Santo Domingo, at 76.
Until Monday, downed trees and bridges and raging streams prevented rescuers from reaching the town by land or landing by helicopter. Both the U.S. Peace Corps and the U.S. Agency for International Development had said getting to San Juan was a top priority.
Children dashed across a field Monday to collect packets of disaster supplies dropped by a small airplane. Doctors waited anxiously for medical supplies to vaccinate residents against diseases and prepared for a surge in dengue and malaria, both carried by mosquitoes that breed in stagnant water.
Patients also were being vaccinated to prevent tetanus and diphtheria, said Dr. Idana Castillo.
Two flatbed trailers carrying 110-pound bags of rice donated by Australia arrived Monday afternoon, and workers prepared the trucks for a push across the flooded roadway leading into town.
A barefoot boy squatted in the shade beneath one of the trucks, collecting falling grains of rice in a tattered red baseball cap.
U.S. helicopters were expected to fly in more supplies on Tuesday.
Georges killed at least 370 people, 210 in the Dominican Republic alone, as it spun westward through the Caribbean last week.
In a small cemetery outside town, the graves of eight people were marked by a 2-foot-high mound covered with red and purple flowers and crosses made of sticks. Nine other storm victims were buried nearby.
Residents said they had some warning but were unprepared for the disaster.
"They told us before it happened, but I didn't think it would be this bad," said Alejandro Mateo, 68, who fled his yellow clapboard house in the Monte de Oca neighborhood as the water rose.
The house now is filled with mud.