by Staff Writers
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Aug 4, 2011
Tropical Storm Emily whipped southern Haiti with winds and rains Thursday as hundreds of thousands huddled in squalid makeshift camps, some perched precariously on bare, slippery hillsides.
After meandering for a few hours off southern Haiti, the storm was "nudging west northwards, drenching Hispaniola," the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the US National Hurricane Center said.
The Miami-based weather experts have warned of "torrential rain" and "life-threatening flash floods and mudslides" as Emily moves over the impoverished nation.
Authorities cancelled all domestic flights and shut down government buildings, urging Haitians not to leave their homes if possible. The visa section at the US embassy in the capital Port-au-Prince was closed.
Early Thursday, the storm was about 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Port-au-Prince, but the city had so far been spared the worst as heavy rains lashed the southern towns of Jacmel and Cayes.
Haitian officials have hoisted a red alert, fearful some 300,000 Haitians still living in makeshift camps almost 19 months after a catastrophic January 2010 earthquake could face flash-floods and wet, sodden conditions.
The storm had stalled off the coast but began moving forward again at a snail's pace of five miles an hour with some increase in forward speed expected, and packing winds of 50 miles per hour with higher gusts.
Weather experts warned residents to expect up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain in some isolated areas, which could come cascading down hillsides long since stripped bare of trees, used for fuel and building materials.
Haiti's weather service chief Ronald Semelfort warned Emily would be "a great danger for the country still fragile from the January 2010 earthquake."
The US National Hurricane Center said the center of Emily was to hit Haiti's southwestern peninsula later Thursday.
The storm is forecast to dump between six and 12 inches (15-30 centimeters) of rain with isolated amounts of up to 20 inches possible over Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the NHC said.
"Some weakening is possible as Emily interacts with the high terrain of Haiti and eastern Cuba," it said, with "re-strengthening" possible when it moves over the Bahamas.
Coastal areas were warned of a storm surge which will raise water levels by one to three feet and be "accompanied by large and dangerous waves." Shipping has been banned along Haiti's southern coast.
Haiti is still recovering from the devastating 2010 quake, which killed an estimated 225,000 people. The country has also been battling an outbreak of cholera, which has killed 5,506 people and infected 363,117.
About 300 families had already been affected by flooding, and some cholera treatment centers were swept away, officials said. The health ministry urged personnel at such centers to bring their patients to nearby hospitals.
A team of Cuban doctors in Haiti were on standby to prevent any further outbreaks of the water-borne illness.
"People living in unsafe housing will be the worst affected if flooding hits," Harry Donsbach, the earthquake response director in Haiti for the Christian charity group World Vision, said in a statement on Wednesday.
"Landslides are of course a threat, but even simply heavy rain has the potential to worsen the volatile sanitation conditions in camps, which, with cholera still prevalent in Haiti, is a serious concern," Donsbach said.
In the Dominican Republic, a maximum red alert has been sounded across six provinces, and all water and outdoor leisure activities suspended.
Mandatory evacuations were declared in a dozen villages near dams, and Dominican officials warned residents in other areas.
"Residents in high-risk areas, who live next to rivers, streams and creeks... should take precautions and be aware of the recommendations of the relief agencies," the government's office of emergency services said.
The tropical storm warning was also in effect for eastern Cuba, the central Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos islands.
In Cuba, the national Institute of Meteorology said to expect heavy rain from Emily in the far eastern part of the island by Thursday afternoon.
The lead forecaster at the US national weather service, Gerry Bell, said Thursday that residents of the southeastern US state of Florida should "still be on their toes" as the storm still had the potential to hit the area.
In the Pacific Ocean, meanwhile, Hurricane Eugene weakened to a category three storm far off Mexico's western coast, but was heading away from land towards the north-west and into the open sea.
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Tropical Storm Emily barrels towards fragile Haiti
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Aug 3, 2011
Haiti on Wednesday braced for incoming Tropical Storm Emily, urging evacuations ahead of a churning system that could bring flash floods to the nation still recovering from a massive earthquake. A tropical storm warning was in effect for Haiti, the neighboring Dominican Republic, the US territory of Puerto Rico, the southeastern Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos islands, the US National Hurr ... read more
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