The storm that was not a storm caused major casualties

27 Febrero Av. and Maximo Gomez Av. / Whatsapp Image

A passing trough became one of the worst weather tragedies in decades for the Dominican Republic. Nine corpses (5 women and four men) were recovered Saturday, 18 November 2023, from under a retainer wall that collapsed on the underpass of the 27 of February Avenue, near Maximo Gomez. The wall collapsed when the pressure of gushing waters exceeded the drainage capacity.

People had gone about their usual affairs on Saturday. The Weather Office had indicated the possible hurricane would not be a hurricane, as it moved away from Hispaniola to move north towards Cuba. But the Weather Office had also alerted there would be heavy rains and reminded residents of the effects of 4 November when Greater Santo Domingo flooded and there were many tragedies. Most of the country was on a weather alert. Greater Santo Domingo was in the middle of a yellow alert.

On the morning of Saturday, 18 November, the long-time director of the Center for Emergency Operations, Jose Manuel Mendez, requested to take the day off to attend the wedding of his second son. Coincidentally, Channel 4 would air a previously-taped video in which Ivan Ruiz interviews Mendez on his past experiences just as the country experienced the 18 November emergency.

That Saturday morning, people were going about their affairs. Capital city Mayor Carolina Mejia reported in a press conference that no damages were reported in the National District. At least in Greater Santo Domingo, it hadn’t hardly rained, and the expectation was that the storm had passed us. Nevertheless, the skies were clouded, it did look like it could rain.

Shortly after 1pm the rains began slowly to not stop until late in the evening. Tropical rains usually last around half an hour or so. But on Saturday, the rains did not stop. And these came with wind gusts. The trough that was moving past had fed itself on the humidity left by the tropical disturbance that never became a storm and discharged its waters on the Dominican Republic with a vengeance. That was what Ceballos was referring to. A minor weather phenomenon can be magnified by climate change.

People began to share the videos on social media….

The first reports were of the collapse of a bridge in western San Jose de Ocoa.

Then people shared the video of the Isabel Aguiar Avenue, which appeared to be a river-rafting course with parked vehicles being swept by the waters. At one point, the pavement is lifted by the gushing waters.

Isabel Aguiar Av. / Whatsapp Images

People in Greater Santo Domingo then knew the city was in for a repeat of the experience of the tragic flooding on 4 November 2022. People and vehicles that were on the roads did their best to get home. But some would not make it.

Cadena de Noticias (CDN – Channel 37), with weather forecaster Jean Suriel and reporter Lisa Gil on the road and under the rain reporting back to the channel news anchor Francis Medrano, provided the best coverage in traditional media of the weather phenomenon.

Lisa Gil would be there to cover for CDN when around 5pm, one of four sections of the retainer wall at the underpass of 27 de Febrero Avenue at the eastern side of the front of the Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic would collapse. Five vehicles would be smashed. By 10pm, the rescue forces announced that nine corpses had been retrieved – five men and four women. The corpses were sent to the National Forensic Institute (Inacif) for identification.

Geological engineer Osiris de Leon was at the site. CDN (Channel 37) interviewed De Leon at the wall site and he explained that the first section of the retainer wall had been reinforced and anchored when it slipped in 2000. But the other three sections were not anchored. He remarked that after that situation, the Ministry of Public Works took action so that engineers took provisions to anchor the walls of the underpasses that would be built after that occurrence. Osiris de Leon highlighted roads need to be able to bear the brunt of mega storms (storm of Category 3+) and the impacts of earthquakes or people will fear driving through these areas.

Weather Office director Gloria Ceballos blamed climate change. Rains are said to have reached 380 mm. She explained that these rapidly evolving phenomena that cause rain and wind gusts, and electrical storms with tropical storm intensity result from climate change.

“We have had intense rains both in the southwest and the entire Caribbean coast and the center of the country and the northeast. That is, this system, the climate change script, has affected the entire national territory with extraordinary rains,” she reiterated, as shared in a Presidency press release.

There was a CDN video of a Presidente Beer truck that overturned causing major traffic chaos. People were filmed removing cases of beer…

There were reports of young people making merry in the flooded streets. Others helped to rescue cars that were caught in the floods.

The forecast is for the rains to be much less on Sunday and Monday as the system moves north.

By 10pm the Presidency called off work on Saturday and Sunday through Monday to facilitate rescue operations. He also ordered flexible contracting conditions to respond to the emergencies. In his white wedding guayabera, Jose Manuel Mendez was at the meeting with President Luis Abinader to announce the measures.

There are reports of power outages, especially in the provinces. The power did not go out for most of the capital city and Dominicans watched the special transmission of Miss Universe on Channel 9. Miss Nicaragua won the Miss Universe contest. Miss Dominican Republic Mariana Downing did not make it to the 20 finalists. El Caribe reported that Dominicans that were at home and safe, settled in to enjoy a sancocho or rainy-day stew.

Read more in Spanish:
Noticias SIN
CDN: Chief of Firemen says nine corpses were found
CDN: Osiris de Leon explains why the retainer wall collapsed
CDN: Looting of the overturned Presidente Beer truck
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Diario Libre
El Dia
El Caribe
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El Pais

19 November 2023

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