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Hanna leaves 61 dead in Haiti as more storms brew in Atlantic

by Staff Writers
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Sept 3, 2008
Helicopters rescued survivors from rooftops in the flooded Haitian city of Gonaives as Tropical Storm Hanna claimed at least 61 lives, the third major storm to hammer Haiti in as many weeks.

Hanna left scenes of devastation with hundreds of homes destroyed amid desperate rescue efforts as forecasters warned the storm could strengthen into a hurricane before it heads to the southeastern US coastline.

As two more storm systems churned in the Atlantic, the flooding in Haiti revived memories of lethal Tropical Storm Jeanne in 2004, when about 3,000 people were killed, mostly in the northern city.

"Something must be done quickly," said Germain Michelet, a priest who took refuge from the flooding on the second floor of the archbishop's office in Gonaives.

"I don't know how much longer we will remain alive," he told AFP. "If we are forced to go through another night under these conditions, there will not be many survivors."

The UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) carried out numerous helicopter missions in Gonaives to rescue those stranded by the high water.

"We have managed to recover two dozen people who were trapped on rooftops," MINUSTAH spokeswoman Sophie Boutaud de la Combe told AFP, adding that nine injured people were flown to the capital for treatment.

The Gonaives hospital was also flooded, a doctor told local radio. "The patients are grouped in one room," the unnamed doctor said. He added: "The situation is critical."

Haiti is especially prone to flooding and landslides due to widespread deforestation on its section of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic.

Tens of thousands of people in both countries were forced to take refuge due to the driving rain and flooding, though there were no casualties reported in the Dominican Republic.

Hanna struck Haiti one week after it was hit by Hurricane Gustav, which killed 77 people. Two weeks ago, Tropical Storm Fay sparked flooding in Haiti that left about 40 people dead.

As Hanna churned, the government of the Bahamas downgraded its hurricane watch to a tropical storm warning, while the US embassy in Nassau announced it would be closed Thursday and Friday.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami called Hanna "tenacious" and said it would "regain hurricane status in a day or two but it could occur earlier."

Hanna could strike the US coasts of the Carolinas or move "very close" to the area in coming days, the NHC said in its latest advisory.

"A hurricane watch will likely be required for a portion of the southeastern United States coast early Thursday."

On its forecast track, Hanna's center "should be moving through or just east of the central and northwestern Bahamas over the next 24 to 36 hours," it said.

As the northwest Bahamas prepared for Hanna, hurricane shelters opened on Grand Bahama Island.

"We want to advise the public to take all of the necessary precautions so that they can be safe," said Bahamas Minister of Housing Kenneth Russell.

Officials at Grand Bahama hospitals said they were confident they could handle any emergency.

"Our staff has been advised and adequately prepared for coverage of our facilities that will be operational during the storm," said Sharon Williams, hospital administrator.

By early Thursday, Hanna's center was about 260 kilometers (160 miles) east-southeast of San Salvador in the Bahamas, and moving north at near 20 kilometers (13 miles) an hour, the NHC reported.

The storm packed maximum sustained winds of near 105 kilometers (65 miles) per hour, with higher gusts.

The center's extended forecast showed Hanna heading west then turning north and making landfall Sunday around South or North Carolina, on the US central Atlantic coastline.

Two other storms were moving across the Atlantic.

Ike strengthened to a Category Four hurricane by early Thursday, hours after it developed from tropical storm to hurricane status.

And Tropical Storm Josephine, in the eastern Atlantic 605 kilometers (375 miles) west of the southernmost Cape Verde islands, was expected to weaken as it moved west-northwest Thursday.

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US disaster chief: Don't come home too soon
Baton Rouge, Louisiana (AFP) Sept 3, 2008
Residents of storm-battered Louisiana should wait to return home until authorities give them the all-clear, a top disaster relief aide to US President George W. Bush warned Wednesday.

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