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Huge tropical storm whips Haiti
by Staff Writers
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Aug 4, 2011

US sees $32 bn in 2011 weather-related losses
Washington (AFP) Aug 4, 2011 - Extreme weather across the United States, from huge floods to deadly tornadoes, has led to $32 billion in economic losses so far this year, the director of the National Weather Service said Thursday.

"It has been a costly year for extreme weather," Jack Hayes told reporters on a teleconference, referring to the thousands of homes and millions of acres of farmland lost.

"The steady rise in extreme weather and the nation's growing vulnerability to these events has moved us from concern to action."

The country has experienced severe weather throughout 2011, from the record spring rainfall that overwhelmed rivers already swollen from the melting of heavy winter snows, to the searing summer heat now affecting many states.

Drought in the southern part of the country is the worst in decades, with dry conditions sparking massive wildfires. Tornadoes have killed more than 540 people in 2011 -- the highest toll in more than 60 years.

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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US forecasters say more major storms in forecast
Washington (AFP) Aug 4, 2011 - US forecasters said Thursday they expected the Atlantic hurricane season to be more intense than first predicted, raising the number of expected named storms from its pre-season outlook in May.

Gerry Bell, the lead hurricane season forecaster at the National Weather Service, told reporters the region was "primed for high hurricane activity" from August through October, with more intense storms than those seen thus far.

Experts now predict the formation of 14-19 named tropical storms, of which seven to 10 could become hurricanes, during the season which officially runs from June 1 to November 30, Bell said, putting probability at 70 percent.

Three to five of those hurricanes could be "major" or at least a category three on the five-level Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, meaning sustained winds of at least 111 miles (179 kilometers) per hour, he said.

In May, US forecasters had predicted a total of 12-18 named storms, with six to 10 hurricanes.

Bell said there was an 85 percent chance that 2011 would be an "above normal" season. In May, forecasters put the figure at 65 percent.

The long-term seasonal average is 11 named storms and six hurricanes, two of them major. There have been five named storms so far this year.

Tropical Storm Emily whipped southern Haiti with strong rains and winds on Thursday, sparking fears of mudslides and flash floods in the impoverished country, still trying to recover from a devastating earthquake last year.

With a total of 12 hurricanes, the 2010 season left hundreds dead in floods and mudslides in Central America and the Caribbean, where they destroyed homes and infrastructure and devastated crops.

Among the worst of the year was Hurricane Tomas, a late-season cyclone that churned over the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia before battering Haiti and drenching Costa Rica. At least 57 people were killed.

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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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