Heavy Rains Soak Puerto Rico, 4 Dead

Heavy rains drenched Puerto Rico on Monday as a slow-moving tropical disturbance lingered over the U.S. Caribbean territory, killing four people, flooding streets and neighborhoods and forcing public schools to close.

The tempest, which was in no immediate danger of turning into a tropical storm or hurricane, turned hillside streets into torrents of water and low-lying communities into ponds.

Firefighters and rescue crews spent much of the day helping people stranded in deluged towns along the island's southern coast, where scores of residents took refuge in shelters.

Families abandoned their homes by boat in a submerged neighborhood in Combate, a small southwestern town. In nearby Guanica, Felix Cruz said he sought higher ground when debris-clogged water began inundating his low-lying home.

The mayor of the south-central town of Penuelas, Walter Torres Maldonado, said burial vaults popped up out of the drenched ground in the municipal cemetery, disgorging a few coffins.

Rivers crested their banks near the southeast town of Yabucoa. Bulldozers on Monday were shoving aside mud that caked city streets and oozed into several homes.

More than 24 inches of rain fell in 24 hours in Patillas county in southeastern Puerto Rico, said Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila. At a news conference, he warned that 12 more inches could fall in the next 24 hours.

Police Superintendent Pedro Toledo said that among the dead was a 76-year-old man who suffered a heart attack as he swept water from his house. Two people drowned, and a fourth victim also had a heart attack related to the storm.

Damage from the rains will cost the U.S. island's agriculture industry at least $14 million, according to Ramon Gonzalez, president of Puerto Rico's Farmers Association. He said bananas and coffee were the crops hardest hit.

In the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands, the government issued a flash-flood watch for the three-island territory. Authorities also declared a small-craft advisory, warning of waves up to 9 feet high. There were no reports of injuries or major damage.

The rain is expected to slowly move north toward the Bahamas. The storm comes on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Georges, which caused more than $2 billion in damage in Puerto Rico.