Tropical Storm To Hit Tent City

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – Hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in squalid makeshift camps hunkered down Thursday as lashing rain and wind from the edge of Tropical Storm Emily hit the quake-stricken country.

US weather experts warned of “torrential rain” and “life-threatening flash floods and mud slides” once the brunt of Emily reaches Haiti, heaping more misery upon the impoverished Caribbean nation.

The some 300,000 Haitians still living in makeshift camps almost 19 months after a catastrophic January 2010 earthquake may have to battle up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain cascading down muddy, denuded hillsides.

Haitian officials have raised a red alert and called for the evacuation of tent cities at risk, many perched on hillsides long since stripped bare of any trees, chopped down to use as fuel and building materials.

Authorities “are asking people in refugee camps… to evacuate vulnerable locations,” said Haiti’s civil defense chief Alta Jean-Baptiste.

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 Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in its 0900 GMT advisory the center of Emily was to hit Haiti’s southwestern peninsula later Thursday, but that the system was already bringing severe rainfall to eastern Hispaniola, the island Haiti shares with its wealthier neighbor the Dominican Republic.

The center of Emily was some 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Isla Beata, in the far southern tip of Hispaniola, the NHC said.

The storm was packing winds of 50 miles (85 kilometers) per hour, with higher gusts. It was moving at a snail’s pace of seven miles (11 kilometers) per hour, but was expected to accelerate in the coming hours as it turned slightly to northwest

On the current forecast track, Emily was to “move over extreme eastern Cuba Thursday night.”

Emily is forecast to dump between six and 12 inches (15 and 30 centimeters) of rain with isolated amounts of up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) 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 (up to a meter) and be “accompanied by large and dangerous waves.”

Shipping was banned along Haiti’s southern coast as Emily approached, and Semelfort said the entire country would be affected by the storm.

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.

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.

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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