KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Flooding and landslides caused by heavy rains have killed at least eight people on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, officials said Wednesday.
The government's National Emergency Management Organization said one of those who died was an 18-year-old college student. One man was reported missing.
Among the eight killed was a cousin of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, Cassian Gonsalves, who died Tuesday night when a landslide crashed through his house, Cassian cousin Mark Boyea told The Associated Press.
The devastation prompted the prime minister to cut short a family vacation that had taken him to England and Rome, and he was due to return home Thursday. Photos posted by the Vatican showed that Gonsalves had met with Pope Francis.
In the heavily hit area of North Leeward in northwestern St. Vincent, a family of five was killed when a house was swept into their home. About 60 people showed up at a school converted into a shelter. Nicole Bonadies-Baker from the Education Ministry said she expected more people to seek refuge there, where they would receive counseling.
There was extensive flooding and damage elsewhere in the eastern part of the Caribbean. Police on the nearby island of St. Lucia said a man died there when a wall fell on him.
Traditional Christmas Eve midnight religious services were cancelled and several churches in the capital of Castries opened their doors to stranded people.
"It's the worst Christmas I will ever spend," said Jude Francis, his clothes soaked from the rain.
St. Lucia Prime Minister Kenny Anthony described the damage as an emergency and a major setback for the country. "I don't think I can recall when we have had such heavy rainfall on the eve of Christmas," he said.
On the nearby island of Dominica, dozens of homes and at least two hotels were evacuated because of the danger of landslides and several roads were blocked by mud.
The cluster of thunderstorms came as the small islands were crowded with holiday tourists. Showers were expected to linger over the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic throughout Wednesday.
Associated Press writer Guy Ellis in Castries, St. Lucia, contributed to this report.