Tropical Storm makes landfall in Haiti

2012-08-25 12:00
Vladimir Louis, 25, sits with his three-year-old son Marvens outside their tent inside a camp for people displaced by the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Dieu Nalio Chery, AP)

Vladimir Louis, 25, sits with his three-year-old son Marvens outside their tent inside a camp for people displaced by the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Dieu Nalio Chery, AP)

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Port-au-Prince - Tropical Storm Isaac hit Haiti with driving rain and gale-force winds early on Saturday as it came ashore in the impoverished Caribbean nation still reeling from the effects of a devastating 2010 earthquake.

"It has just moved ashore west of Port-au-Prince," Jessica Schauer, a spokesperson of the US National Hurricane Centre told AFP.

US forecasters said Isaac was near hurricane strength when the eye of the storm made landfall in Haiti, where hundreds of thousands of people are still living in squalid, makeshift camps with nothing but sheets of metal or tarp as roofs.

Earlier on Saturday, the storm displayed "faster northwestward motion" as it barrelled Haiti's southern coast, the US National Hurricane Centre said. It packed winds of nearly 110km/h, with higher gusts.

Around 400 000 people still live in temporary tent camps following the earthquake that killed 250 000 and levelled Port-au-Prince, and they have nowhere to go.

'Not ready'

The streets grew empty, and only a few, rare vehicles ventured out after dark. Earlier in the day, long lines had formed outside supermarkets as people stocked up on supplies.

"We're not ready," said Martine, who heads a watch group at a camp hosting a thousand families.

"When it rains, we stand under tents with holes in them. There are many children and we don't know what to do if we have to evacuate," she told AFP.

With no access to public restrooms or safe drinking water, residents of the Canape Vert camp complained about the lack of help from the authorities.

But a government official said President Michel Martelly, who cancelled a trip to Japan, had toured emergency shelters in central Port-au-Prince to distribute food supplies and blankets.

Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said the entire government, including security forces, had mobilised to prepare for the storm.

Hurricane watch

Aid groups warned that those without proper shelter after the quake were among the most vulnerable if Isaac hits the capital, at risk of disease from water contamination and other disaster scenarios.

"We must now avoid any risk of a cholera outbreak by following proper hygiene," said Lea Guido, representative of the Pan American Health Organisation and World Health Organisation in Haiti.

A hurricane watch was in effect for Haiti, and a tropical storm warning was in effect for the neighbouring Dominican Republic and eastern Cuba. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the Florida Keys and parts of south Florida.

The Haiti director for Oxfam said that his group was preparing clean water and hygiene kits to help prevent the spread of cholera and other water-borne diseases.

"Nothing short of a miracle can keep people safe from this kind of storm when their only shelter is a tent," said Oxfam's Andrew Pugh.

"Haiti's disaster preparedness and response capacities have improved since the earthquake, but much remains to be done to help the poorest people cope with hurricane-strength threats."

Isaac was just west of Port-au-Prince as it swirled across Haiti at 20km/h, the NHC said.

Life-threatening floods

The storm could dump up to 51cm of rain on Hispaniola, the island Haiti and the Dominican Republic share, by the time it leaves toward Cuba, the centre said.

"These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides," the NHC warned.

After striking Haiti and southeastern Cuba, home to the US naval base and "war on terror" prison at Guantanamo Bay, Isaac was due to head on Sunday for the Florida Keys off the southern tip of the United States.

In Cuba, the government declared a state of alert in the island's six eastern provinces, where nearly five million people live.

Local authorities "must understand the possible impact of the intense rain on dams, canals and rivers," the Cuban civil defence office said, warning of blocked water drainage systems and flooded roads.

Isaac could reach Florida just in time for the Republican Party's National Convention.

Prepare for the worst

Tens of thousands of people from around the country will descend on Tampa for four days for the formal nomination of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to challenge President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.

City officials have urged residents to prepare for the worst, and Republican National Committee chairperson Reince Priebus has expressed concern about the storm but insisted the show would go on.

In the Gulf of Mexico, oil and gas operators braced for the storm, with BP evacuating its Thunder Horse platform, the world's largest offshore production and drilling facility.

Read more on:    oxfam  |  michel martelly  |  haiti  |  weather
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