Hurricane David slammed into the Dominican Republic with 150 mph winds and 20-foot waves yesterday as it wended a path of destruction through the Caribbean Sea after battering Puerto Rico and devastating the small island nation of Dominica.
The powerful storm, one of the worst on record in the Caribbean, struck the Dominican Republic just west of the capital and main port, Santo Domingo, when it abruptly turned north from its open-sea course.
News reports from the area said David left at least 32 persons dead, hundreds missing and thousands homeless on Puerto Rico and Dominica.
"Dominica does not exist any more," a ham radio operator on the island cried, according to monitors in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Reports from the British Navy frigate HMS Fife, which anchored off the island after the hurricane passed, said the storm destroyed 95 percent of the houses on Dominica. Most of the poverty-stricken island's 81,000 inhabitants were homeless and facing shortages of food, water and medicine.
The U.S. government yesterday said it was dispatching a "disaster area survey team" to Dominica to assess relief needs and would contribute $25,000 in immediate disaster assistance.
News reports put the island's death toll at 20 and said it could rise to 26. Officers of the Fife estimated that as many as 4,000 residents of Dominica were injured.
On Puerto Rico, the storm killed 14 persons, 11 of them in the flooded town of Toa Baja about 25 miles west of the capital, San Juan, reports said.
The U.S. National Weather Service bureau in Miami last night reported that winds in Santo Domingo exceeded 100 mph "before the wind equipment blew down." It predicted that David's northward jog would be temporary, saying the storm was likely to resume heading in a westnorthwest direction Saturday.
The government of Haiti, located on the northwestern end of the island of Hispaniola that it shares with the Dominican Republic, declared a state of emergency yesterday as Hurricane David headed toward the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, a city of 1 million.
West-northwest movement would take the eye of the hurricane on toward Cuba, where a summit of more than 90 nonaligned nations is scheduled to begin Monday.
"Hurricane conditions may spread into eastern Cuba Saturday afternoon," the weather service said. It still could not be predicted, however, whether the full force of the hurricane would hit Cuba.
Meanwhile the National Weather Service reported gale warnings in effect from Port O'Connor, Texas, to Moran City, La., from another storm, Elena, developing in the Gulf of Mexico. A third storm, Frederic, was moving west from its origin in the south Atlantic and was expected to intensify to hurricane force by Saturday, the weather service said.
The eye of Hurricane David missed the Dominican Republic's capital, Santo Domingo, yesterday, but its winds nevertheless uprooted trees and damaged buildings in the city and pounded its port with towering waves. The government cut off electricity to all Dominican cities as a safety precaution, and the capital was without running water.
On Puerto Rico, heavy rains and thunderstorms lashed vast areas of the island, flooding homes and roads and cutting off power and water supplies to many towns.
Puerto Rican Governor Carlos, Romero Barcelo declared a state of emergency and asked the public to stay home.
On Dominica, a banana-producing island that became independent from Britain last year,the capital Roseau was virtually flattened and crops were heavily damaged.
The country was declared a disaster area, and the Dominician government repportedly was considering a declaration of martial law to combat looting on the island, one of the poorest in the Caribbean.
An expectation that the hurricane would move toward Cuba caused American military authorities at the Guantananmo U.s. Navy base to move four training aircraft to Jacksonville, Fla. Four ships at the base also headed for calmer seas in the Caribbean. A Navy spokesman said no U.S. military personnel were being evacuated.