PORT-AU-PRINCE - At least 45 people have died in the poverty-stricken island of Haiti as homes were swept away in floods triggered by heavy rain, the interior ministry said Friday.

Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime told AFP 23 bodies had been found Thursday in Cabaret, just north of the capital, and 12 were missing after floodwaters hit their hillside homes, sweeping them away in the current.

"The water carried off people living in houses built on the hillside, sweeping them into the town," the minister said.

More than 6,000 people have had to leave their flooded homes in Cabaret, where neighborhoods have been completely submerged, witnesses told radio stations in Port-au-Prince.

The mountainous and impoverished Caribbean island nation faces regular flash-flooding during the rainy season. Deforestation, which heightens the risk of flooding, is rife as the poor collect every scrap of wood for cooking.

Civil protection authorities said thousands of families were displaced and hundreds of homes destroyed or damaged across the country. Roads were swamped and plantations wiped out.

"Farming has been particularly affected and numerous crops have been destroyed," Bien-Aime said.

Apart from Cabinet, further casualties were reported in other villages after more than a week of rain. The ministry said the provisional death toll for the whole of the country was at least 45.

The government released funds to send food and beds to the stricken areas and the United Nations has offered to help. It already has thousands of peacekeepers in the country, whose problems were compounded by violent political strife in recent years.

In eastern Cuba, just west of Haiti, civil defense officials evacuated more than 18,000 people amid flooding concerns from the same weather system, which damaged at least 1,000 homes there.

And in Nicaragua at least 1,000 were evacuated in the Chinandega region of the northeast, were a flood alert was issued, emergency services told AFP. Heavy rain there has caused major rivers to flood their banks.