Tropical Storm Emily barrels toward Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Authorities in Haiti called Aug. 2 for evacuations as Tropical Storm Emily threatened to bring flash floods to the impoverished nation struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for Haiti as well as its neighbor on the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Haiti’s weather service chief Ronald Semelfort said heavy rains could start pounding the country late Aug. 3, warning this “represents a great danger for the country still fragile from the January 2010 earthquake.”

Tens of thousands of Haitians remain in makeshift camps more than 18 months after the quake, which killed an estimated 225,000 people.

Authorities were spreading the word and “are asking people in refugee camps... to evacuate vulnerable locations,” said Haiti’s civil defense chief Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste.

“We will review this evacuation strategy based on the probability of damage from the storm,” he added.

The Miami-based NHC warned heavy rain from Emily could trigger deadly flash floods in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Emily is currently forecast to drop between four and six inches (10 to 15 centimeters) of rain on Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, “with isolated maximum amounts of 10 inches (25 centimeters) possible,” the NHC said.

“These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides in areas of mountainous terrain,” the NHC said.

Haiti has in the past witnessed dozens of deadly landslides with many of the hills which surround the capital stripped bare of trees.

The Dominican Republic declared an alert for portions of the country, called for mandatory evacuations in a dozen villages near dams and urged residents to take precautions 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.

In the Pacific Ocean, meanwhile, Hurricane Eugene strengthened to a category two storm but still posed no threat to land, the weather service said.

[AFP, 02/08/2011]

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