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Children swept away in Jamaica

By Clint Chan Tack,

THREE CHILDREN were swept out of their mothers' arms to their death Saturday when a six-foot storm surge caused by Hurricane Ivan struck southern Jamaica. Another four children drowned in similar storm surges which hit the Dominican Republic on the same day. Yesterday's Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that Jamaicans Antowain Williamson, 8, Tiffany Wilson, 3, and her sister Lisanne, 2, were among eight persons killed by the storm surge when it hit their home town of Portland Cottage. Antowain's mother Dawn Williamson was reportedly holding him in her arms when he was carried away by undertow in the black water where their yard used to be. "He said, ‘Mommy, I'm going to drown'," Dawn said. "Those were his last words. I tried to save him."

Dawn's mother, Justina Gopie, also drowned as the family tried to leave their homes, unaware their yard had become a deadly lake. Dawn's sister-in-law, Rebecca Wilson, a mother of three, lost her two toddlers, Tiffany, 3, and Lissane, 2. Dawn's 15-year-old son, her oldest, found the bodies of Antowain and Lissane Sunday afternoon while he chopped wood that piled up in the storm surge. Relatives brought the bodies to the road's edge and laid them on a small board facing each other so friends and relatives could pay their respects. Dawn, long finished with tears, comforted herself by rocking and grunting softly. Her mother's body was still lost in the water. Eight persons were killed in Portland Cottage — a community consisting largely of descendants of East Indian settlers in Clarendon parish, west of Kingston — half of Jamaica's hurricane-related death toll. All but one of the island's 16 deaths, which involved drowning, mudslides, and fallen trees, occurred in evacuation sites, but the victims didn't seek shelter, according to the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management.

Spokeswoman Nadene Newsome said Williamson's and Wilson's stories are tragic examples of families who responded too slowly or not at all to extensive evacuation warnings that reached residents in Portland Cottage several days before the hurricane hit. Four family members died in mudslides at their home in St Andrew parish, and others were killed when trees crushed their homes, according to the Jamaica Constabulary. "That's the thing," said Newsome, adding that Jamaica used only 235 of its 1,000 available shelters. "Persons didn't believe the hurricane was going to come. They went too late. That's what we're learning now. It's my personal opinion that these deaths could have been avoided." Four children also drowned in the Dominican Republic after they were swept into the sea from a beach in Santo Domingo. "The children were in front of the sea when it seems a gigantic wave dragged them into the Caribbean Sea," said Jose Luis German, a spokesman for the National Emergency Commission.

Authorities there closed part of the seaside Malecon Drive, where massive waves washed over the road. Yesterday Hurricane Ivan hit both Cuba's western tip and the Caymans. Only about ten miles of Cuba's sparsely populated western tip was forecast to suffer Ivan's force. However, in the Caymans, a State of Emergency has been declared after Ivan devastated the majority of houses. Up to yesterday evening, the islands were being pounded by heavy winds and rain. A tropical depression, number 11, has formed in the Atlantic, east of the Leeward Islands. A tropical storm warning has been issued for Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Antigua and the British Virgin Islands. The government of the Netherlands Antilles has issued a tropical storm watch. Tropical storm conditions could also affect the remainder of the northen Lesser Antilles to the north of Guadeloupe.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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