Tropical Storm Isaac swept across Haiti’s southern peninsula today, bringing flooding and at least three deaths while adding to the misery of a poor nation still trying to recover from the 2010 earthquake.
The storm was heading toward eastern Cuba and forecasters said it poses a threat to Florida on Monday and Tuesday, just as the Republican Party gathers for its national convention in Tampa.
The US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said a hurricane warning is in effect for the Florida Keys and for the west coast of Florida from Bonita Beach south to Florida Bay.
At least three people were reported dead. A woman and a child died in the town of Souvenance while a 10-year-old girl died in Thomazeau when a wall fell, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti’s Civil Protection Office. She said as many as 5,000 people were evacuated because of flooding.
Many, however, stayed and suffered.
In the shanty town of Cite Soleil, just north of Port-au-Prince, about 300 homes had either their roofs blown off or were sitting in three feet of water, according to Rachel Brumbaugh, operation manager for the US non-profit group World Vision.
“From last night, we’re in misery,” said Cite Soleil resident Jean-Gymar Joseph. “All our children are sleeping in the mud, in the rain.”
More than 50 tents in a quake settlement collapsed, forcing people to scramble through the mud to try to save their belongings.
Forecasters said Isaac could dump as much as eight to 12 inches and even up to 20 inches on Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as well as produce a storm surge of up to three feet.
Isaac was centred about 95 miles east-southeast of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, early today with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. It was moving northwest at 14 mph. Tropical force winds extended nearly 200 miles from the storm’s centre.
Forecasters said the storm was likely to march up the Gulf of Mexico, offshore of Florida’s west coast, as a hurricane on Monday, just as the Republican National Convention is scheduled to start.
Tampa was within the storm’s possible strike zone, but the most likely course would carry it toward landfall on the Florida Panhandle late on Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Cuba has declared a state of alert for six eastern provinces and five central provinces were put on preliminary watch.
State television began an all-day transmission of news about the storm.
Radio Baracoa, from the city of Baracoa on the northern coast of eastern Cuba, reported that high seas began topping the city’s seawall yesterday. Reports said lower than normal rains had left reservoirs well below capacity and in good shape to absorb run-off.
Cuba has a highly organised civil defence system that goes door-to-door to enforce evacuations of at-risk areas, largely averting casualties from storms even when they cause major flooding and significant damage to crops.