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ROSEAU, Dominica (AP) — Rescue crews jumped off boats and trudged through mud, rocks and uprooted trees Saturday to reach communities cut off by a tropical storm that killed at least 20 people and left nearly 50 missing in the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica.
Volunteers helped carry food, water and clothes for dozens of Dominicans who have been isolated for up to three days after Tropical Storm Erika dumped some 15 inches (38 centimeters) of rain on the mountainous island.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit pleaded for international aid, saying the damage pushed Dominica back by two decades, and he warned of more rain in upcoming days. He met Saturday with members of a newly created committee charged with helping rebuild an island devastated by floods and landslides.
"It's a very daunting task," said opposition leader Lennox Linton, who met with Skerrit. "The country has been significantly set back."
At least 20 people were still missing in the southeast village of Petite Savanne, one of the hardest hit areas and home to some of Dominica's steepest mountains.
"They are not expected to be found," Linton said, warning that the number of dead and missing would likely rise. Dozens of injured were still being airlifted to the hospital in the capital of Roseau.
Among those receiving care was Richard Baron, a 51-year-old mechanic who was swept away in a flood with his son as they scooped mud out of their home.
"He shout, 'Daddy, Daddy! Daddy, Daddy! When I look up, I see the whole mountain and everything was coming down toward us," he said. "I was down on the ground, gliding with the landslide."
Baron said he managed to grab onto a tree and then onto his son.
"My son was about 10 feet away from the ravine. He would have perished," Baron said, adding that he lost several friends and relatives.
As Dominicans struggled with the loss of family and property, they heeded Skerrit's advice to help each other.
Go-fast boats zipped around Dominica, carrying rescuers and those seeking to reach relatives trapped in isolated communities.
Young men around Roseau fanned out to assist neighbors and clear roads, said Thomas Holmes, a guidance counselor who has been meeting with victims he said are numbed by the disaster.
"We assumed we'd be getting some rain, but not for that duration," he said. "It hit Dominica for over 11 hours."
Officials said the flooding was so destructive in part because the small island has 365 rivers as well as several lakes and waterfalls. The main airport, which was recently renovated, remained closed and partially underwater, and dozens of bridges have been washed out.
Some Dominicans took ferries to the nearby islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe to catch flights elsewhere to stay with friends and family. Those who stayed behind shoveled mud from their homes as television sets, bookcases and mattresses piled up outside.
"The destruction is unbelievable," said Terry Dyer, who lives on Dominica's west coast and is cut off from the capital. "It is sudden and widespread. I have never seen that before."
As Dominicans continued to dig out on Saturday, Tropical Storm Erika dissipated after drenching Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
At least one person died in Haiti in a suspected mudslide, and four others were killed and another 11 were hospitalized in Leogane, just west of the Haitian capital, when a truck carrying a liquor known locally as clairin crashed into a bus and exploded. Authorities said it apparently was raining when the accident occurred.
Haitian authorities also evacuated 254 prisoners in Gonaives to other locations because of flooding, and two people were hospitalized after their home in Port-au-Prince collapsed in heavy rains.
The remnants of Erika drifted near the coast of eastern and central Cuba on Saturday and were expected to move into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Sunday. The Hurricane Center said that heavy rains and gusty winds are still possible across southern and central Florida Sunday.
Meanwhile in the Pacific, Jimena turned into a powerful Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 150 mph (240 kph). The Hurricane Center said it was expected to remain a major hurricane through Monday, though it did not pose an immediate threat to land.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. AP writers Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana, Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida contributed to this report.
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