Cigar Aficionado

Olga Slams the Dominican Republic

Despite the end of hurricane season nearly two weeks ago, Tropical Storm Olga slammed into Hispaniola yesterday, soaking the Dominican Republic and Haiti with torrential rains.

"I've never seen rain like this in Santiago," said Jose Blanco of La Aurora. "It's too early to evaluate, but with all the rivers already overflowed and all likelihood that it's going to rain for another couple of days, it seems like it's going to be bad."

The Emergency Operations Committee of the Dominican Republic reported that 6,000 persons were evacuated due to the flooding -- especially in areas near rivers in Santiago and northern and southern provinces. Local news sources reported, citing the governor of Santiago, that at least seven people died and that 38 houses were buried by a mudslide in the community of Juan Lopez III in Moca, Espaillat province, located northeast of Santiago.

On Tuesday at 11 p.m. EST, the National Hurricane Center in Miami reported that the storm reached maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. Storms that reach winds of 74 mph are defined as hurricanes. The center expected four to six inches of rain throughout Hispaniola, with isolated accumulations of up to 10 inches.

The sustained rains caused the North Yaque River to swell over its banks. The Yaque, which runs alongside the city of Santiago, is the largest river in the Dominican Republic, and in the entire Caribbean. La Aurora moved their factory from Santiago a few months ago to nearby Guazumal, which is still within the Santiago province.

"We were going to be late [in completing the year's production cycle] after Tropical Storm Noel," said Blanco. "Now, with the rain from Olga, we don't know what's going to happen. It could be later…by Friday, we should have a better estimation."

The cigar industry had already taken a hit with flooding and rain from Tropical Storm Noel, which struck in late October and saturated about 10 percent of the country's seedling beds. Growers defend against the looming threat of hurricanes by planting near the end of the hurricane season. Therefore, the timing of this year's storms has been particularly damaging, occurring when the planting had already begun.

"Many of the areas hit by Olga were affected by Tropical Storm Noel as well," said Angel Daniel Núñez, president and chief operating officer of General Cigar Co., which has fields in various parts of the Dominican Republic. "However, in the case of this storm, the provinces of Santiago and Mao, which were spared during Noel, experienced significant flooding from the Yaque River.

"Our facilities in Santiago remain intact; however, several of our employees experienced complete devastation of their homes. We are mobilizing our resources to assist these employees and will cooperate with relief efforts, which are already under way.

"The storm has left the island, and so far, our farm in Mao has not been damaged."

Along with the direct threat of water damage, there are also hidden dangers in tobacco diseases caused by the flooding, such as black shank, which could infect an entire property.

Today, the hurricane center reported that all tropical storm watches and warnings had been discontinued for the Dominican Republic and Haiti, but remain in effect for the southwestern Bahamas and The Turks and Caicos Islands.

Olga will be included by the center in the tally of storms for the 2007 hurricane season. This year there were 15 named storms and six hurricanes.

Image Courtesy of AP Wideworld