Noel second deadliest of season


People stand in a flooded street of Santo Domingo, Wednesday. Floodwaters and mudslides spawned by tropical storm Noel killed at least 48 people in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, officials said Wednesday, raising the death toll as the storm regained force over water and curved toward Florida and the Bahamas.

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 1:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 1:13 p.m.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Coastal communities from the Georgia border south to Miami, scoured by wind and waves from Tropical Storm Noel and a separate high-pressure system, were largely spared major damage, officials said Thursday.

Several dozen structures up and down the coast were threatened. In St. Johns County, at least a half dozen homes were in danger after beaches washed away, leaving little barrier between them and the waves.

The city of Fernandina Beach near the Georgia border declared a local emergency Wednesday, and waves continued Thursday lapping at the foundations of several homes and at least one motel in Brevard County.

Work continued at a coastal condominium complex in South Palm Beach to shore up a retaining wall that fell Tuesday night, forcing the evacuation of residents.

Only "isolated instances" of damage were reported statewide, said Mike Stone of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

"The primary effect is some coastal erosion and some flooding issues, but we don't have any other real big concerns," Stone said.

Palm Beach County officials were watching several "hot spots" in Jupiter and Singer Island, where a few structures were in danger, said Leanne Welch with the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management.

"The seas are starting to lay down," Welch said. "It doesn't seem like there's been many changes overnight."

Beaches in Brevard County lost up to $8 million worth of sand from the combined effects of Noel and several storms earlier this month, said Virginia Barker, a supervisor in the county's Natural Resources Management Office.

"What we've been seeing mostly is a lot of beach deflation and a little bit of dune erosion," Barker said. "We've got a handful of buildings that are vulnerable."

Waves lapped within feet of at least a half dozen homes in St. Johns County, where officials were still assessing the damage and erosion, said county spokeswoman Karen Pan.

Broward County's beaches were doing their job of protecting structures, said Stephen Higgins, the county's beach erosion administrator.

"It's chewed up the beaches. We've lost sand, but no real overwashes, and no structures damaged," Higgins said.

He added, "You want beaches to erode so that your infrastructure doesn't. It serves as a sacrificial buffer."

At 2 p.m. EDT, the 14th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season had edged away from Florida and was passing near Nassau in the Bahamas, according to the National Hurricane Center. A tropical storm warning and watch for parts of southeastern Florida were canceled.

The storm was moving northeast at about 14 mph and was expected to gain speed over the next 24 hours. It had top sustained winds near 65 mph, with stronger gusts. Tropical storm-strength winds extended up to 115 miles from Noel's center.

Noel was blamed for at least 106 deaths in the Dominican Republic and neighboring Haiti, where rescuers rushed to reach people stranded by floods and mudslides; one person was killed in Jamaica.

It is the deadliest storm in that part of the Caribbean since Tropical Storm Jeanne hit Haiti in 2004, triggering floods and mudslides that killed an estimated 3,000 people.

For the Atlantic region as a whole, Noel is the second deadliest of the 2007 season. Hurricane Felix, a monster Category 5 storm, killed at least 101 people in early September, mostly along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and Honduras.

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