PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The Caribbean death toll from Hurricane Sandy rose again sharply on Saturday, even as the storm swirled away toward the U.S. East Coast. Officials said the hurricane system has cost at least 58 lives in addition to destroying or badly damaging thousands of homes.
While Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas took direct hits from the storm, the majority of deaths and most extensive damage was in impoverished Haiti, where it has rained almost non-stop since Tuesday.
The official death toll in Haiti stood at 44 Saturday, but authorities said that could still rise. The country's ramshackle housing and denuded hillsides are especially vulnerable to flooding when rains come.
"This is a disaster of major proportions," Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told The Associated Press. "The whole south is under water."
He said the death toll jumped on Saturday because it was the first day that authorities were able to go out and assess the damage, which he estimated was in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the bulk of it in lost crops.
Nineteen people are reported injured and another 12 are missing, according to Haiti's Civil Protection Office.
One of the remaining threats was a still-rising muddy river in the northern part of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
"If the river busts its banks, it's going to create a lot of problems. It might kill a lot of people," said 51-year-old Seroine Pierre. "If death comes, we'll accept it. We're suffering, we're hungry, and we're just going to die hungry."
Officials reported flooding across Haiti, where 370,000 people are still living in flimsy shelters as a result of the devastating 2010 earthquake. Nearly 17,800 people had to move to 131 temporary shelters, the Civil Protection Office said.
Among those hoping for a dry place to stay was 35-year-old Iliodor Derisma in Port-au-Prince, who said the storm had caused a lot of anguish.