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Tropical Storm Nicole turns deadly in Jamaica

Short-lived Tropical Storm Nicole triggered flash flooding that killed eight people in Jamaica and dumped heavy rain on Florida, Cuba, the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas on Wednesday.
/ Source: news services

Short-lived Tropical Storm Nicole triggered flash flooding that killed at least eight people in Jamaica and dumped heavy rain on Florida, Cuba, the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas on Wednesday.

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.

The broad and ragged storm formed on Wednesday morning and dissipated Wednesday afternoon, and U.S. and Cuban meteorologists disagreed on whether it ever actually was a tropical storm at all.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami pegged its peak sustained winds at 40 miles per hour, just over the 39 mph threshold to become a named storm.

Cuban forecasters put the top winds at 37 mph and disagreed that it was a tropical storm when it crossed the island. "No tropical storm exists," Cuba's top meteorologist, Jorge Rubiera, said on national television.

U.S. forecasters said Nicole had a poorly defined center of circulation and had been "a marginal system."

"Their interpretation is that they don't think it's a storm ... They're on one side of the margin and we're on the other," Richard Pasch, a senior hurricane specialist in Miami, said before the storm was downgraded.

Nicole degenerated into a broad mass of thunderstorms that were forecast to move north-northeast over the Atlantic between Florida and the Bahamas on Wednesday night and then over mid-Atlantic states by Friday.

All tropical storm warnings were dropped but the system was still dumping heavy rain on Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Cuba, the Bahamas and southern Florida. There was still a threat of flash flooding and mudslides in mountainous areas, the Hurricane Center forecasters said.

Apart from Florida, areas along the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas also saw heavy rain, and flooding in some areas.

In Jamaica, the storm triggered floods that drowned two elderly men and a family of six.

A man in his seventies drowned in the village of Unity, north of Kingston, and a man in his 60s drowned in the southwest Jamaican town of Flagaman. Both were trying to walk home from village pubs when they were swept off by rising waters.

Police said a house occupied by a family of seven collapsed near the U.S. Embassy in the Liguanea area northeast of Kingston. A boy was rescued after citizens rushed to his aid but six members of his family were carried off by floodwaters and were confirmed to have drowned.

Floodwaters battered squatter communities perched uneasily on the slopes of gullies that crisscross the sprawling capital of Kingston.

Emergency shelters were opened for thousands of Jamaicans who live in ramshackle homes along the gullies. 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," said Information Minster Daryl Vaz. "It's a serious blow to the country."

Floods flattened fields of bananas, scallions and sweet pepper as the storm's outer edges raked the island.

In Cuba, the heaviest rains fell in the central part of the island, where they were a welcome relief from a prolonged drought that had drained reservoirs and caused water shortages. Nearly eight inches of rain fell in the central province of Sancti Spiritus.

"These rains are a gift from heaven. I hope they go on for two or three days," said Mariela Diaz, an officer worker in the city of Sancti Spiritus.