AFP - Death toll climbs as Gustav barrels through Caribbean
Death toll climbs as Gustav barrels through Caribbean
6 days ago
KINGSTON (AFP) — Tropical Storm Gustav battered Jamaica on Friday, dumping rain and ripping roofs off homes and threatened to grow into a hurricane after leaving 59 people dead in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Anxiety also grew on the US Gulf Coast on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, as authorities in New Orleans mulled a possible mandatory evacuation to prevent a repeat of the devastation and deaths of 2005.
Authorities in Louisiana and Mississippi have already declared states of emergency before Gustav's expected landfall late Monday, when it could strike as a powerful hurricane.
Gustav was forecast to move away from Jamaica later Friday and head towards the Cayman Islands. It was expected to become a hurricane later in the day or by Saturday, the US National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory.
It could become a "major hurricane" before reaching western Cuba on the weekend, the center said.
Gustav's powerful winds ripped off roofs and threatened to wreak havoc on Jamaica's banana industry, officials said. Maximum sustained winds slowed to 100 kilometers (65 miles) per hour early Friday.
The two international airports in Jamaica were closed and the government urged residents to stay indoors. Streets in the capital city of Kingston were deserted.
The storm could dump up to 25 inches (30 centimeters) of rainfall in parts of Jamaica and trigger mudslides, flash floods and tidal flooding like those seen in Haiti.
Civil defense officials in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince said Thursday that 51 people died, seven went missing and 22 had been injured from the ravages of the storm and subsequent flooding.
Gustav struck the island of Hispaniola, shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, as a Category One hurricane on Tuesday.
Thursday, thousands of Haitians were still in emergency shelters, receiving government and NGO aid.
Gustav destroyed untold numbers of homes, bridges and other structures after floodwaters inundated entire villages in Haiti.
Officials said the death toll could rise.
"There are regions affected by the storm that our teams have not been able to reach," civil protection director Alta Jean-Baptiste told reporters in Port-au-Prince, adding that most of the deaths occurred in Haiti's southeast.
"The majority of victims died when their houses collapsed, or were killed by falling trees. Others drowned when they tried to cross swollen rivers," she said.
The impact of the storm was worse coming just days after Tropical Storm Fay, which had lashed the Caribbean with severe winds and flooding.
In the Dominican Republic, Gustav left a wide swathe of destruction killing eight people and forcing more than 6,000 to abandon their homes, local authorities said.
In Cuba, more than 60,000 people were evacuated in eastern provinces as a precaution, authorities said.
Meanwhile, the eighth tropical storm of the hurricane season, dubbed Hanna, was churning in the Atlantic and has the potential to become a hurricane.
British oil group BP and US rivals ConocoPhillips and Shell on Thursday evacuated workers from their energy installations in the Gulf of Mexico, as Gustav loomed.
ExxonMobil said it was preparing for the storm and "identifying personnel for possible evacuation to shore."
About a quarter of US crude oil installations are located in the Gulf of Mexico.
Oil prices fell sharply Thursday, however, as traders discounted the threat of the storm.
"The latest forecasts for Tropical Storm Gustav suggest a slightly lower chance of major disruptions in oil production," said Al Goldman, analyst at Wachovia Securities.