Isaac closes in on Haiti
Tropical Storm Isaac strengthened as it swirled toward vulnerable Haiti yesterday evening, threatening to bring punishing rains to people still without homes after the 2010 earthquake, but unlikely to gain enough steam to strike as a hurricane.
Forecasters expected the storm to stay below hurricane force until it reaches the Gulf of Mexico tomorrow, and they shifted the projected track back eastward, where it remained a threat to Tampa, Florida, USA, where the Republican National Convention starts on Monday.
In Haiti, the government and international aid groups were prepared to evacuate several thousand people from settlement camps that sprang up in the aftermath of the earthquake, but there were few takers.
Isaac was expected to dump up to eight to 12 inches of rain on the island of Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Haiti is heavily deforested and just a few hours of steady rain can trigger deadly mudslides.
"That kind of rain is going to cause some life-threatening flash floods and mudslides," said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the US Hurricane Center in Miami.
Isaac was centred about 100 miles south-southeast of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, yesterday evening, and its maximum sustained winds had increased to 65 miles per hour. It was moving west at 16 miles per hour. Tropical force winds extended nearly 200 miles from the storm's centre.
Cuba declared a state of alert yesterday for six eastern provinces, according to a Civil Defence announcement read on the afternoon news, and five central provinces were put on preliminary watch.
"Vacationers in tourist installations of those regions have begun to be evacuated," Radio Rebelde said. "In the coming hours, people in areas at greatest risk of flooding will be transported to safe places."
In flood-prone Haiti, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe urged people to avoid crossing rivers and to stay calm, saying "panic creates more problems". He said the government had set aside about US$50,000 in emergency funds and had buses and 32 boats on standby for evacuations.
But among many Haitians, the notion of disaster preparedness in a country where most people get by on about US$2 a day was met with a shrug.
"We don't have houses that can bear a hurricane," said Jeanette Lauredan, who lives in a tent camp in the crowded Delmas district of Port-au-Prince.
About 400,000 people remain in settlement camps comprised of shacks and tarps in the wake of Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake.
In Port-au-Prince, people went to work as usual, but commercial banks closed at noon and some residents took precautions as the sky darkened, rain fell and the wind picked up.
"Just in case this gets very bad—the sky is turning grey—I'm making sure we have enough food in the house," said 25-year-old Joanne Dorville, as she carried home rice, sardines, black beans and cooking oil that she had purchased in a street market.
Haitian authorities and aid workers from the International Organisation for Migration and the Haitian Red Cross had planned to evacuate as many as 8,000 people from a tent camp at the edge of the capital yesterday, but few accepted. Two school buses that were supposed to shuttle the people to temporary shelters drove away empty.
More than a hundred people accepted an offer to stay a few nights in a school that President Michel Martelly toured along with Lamothe, the prime minister. Martelly greeted mothers and their children, but after he left people began to leave.
So far, Isaac itself had caused no reported injuries or deaths, but police in Puerto Rico said a 75-year-old woman died near the capital of San Juan on Wednesday when she fell off a balcony while filling a drum with water in preparation for the storm.