Hurricane Gustav Gaining Strength South of Haiti

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

For the latest information on Hurricane Gustav, visit the WTOK Online Hurricane Center.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Rapidly growing Hurricane Gustav headed for a collision with impoverished Haiti on Tuesday, driving many people off the potholed streets of the capital, but bringing few other outward signs of preparation.

The storm was also on track to slice along the south coast of Cuba during the week - possibly growing into a perilous Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds by the weekend, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Forecasters said the hurricane's maximum sustained winds were near 90 mph Tuesday morning, with higher gusts. They said it could become a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 96 mph or higher before hitting Haiti.

Forecasts suggested that Gustav's eye might pass near the capital of Port-au-Prince, home to nearly 3 million people.

A light rain fell on Port-au-Prince as the sun rose on an overcast Tuesday. The city's rough streets, often bustling with commerce at the crack of dawn, were largely empty as merchants took refuge.

"The government orders the population to take precautions because this storm will bring a lot of rain," Interior Minister Paul Antonine Bien-Aime told Radio Ginen in an interview repeated several times early Tuesday.

American Airlines canceled all flights in and out of Port-au-Prince.

Preparations for the storm appeared to be minimal and in the hurricane-prone southwestern city of Les Cayes, smack in the hurricane's path, at least some people without access to television or satellite images said they doubted a storm was even approaching.

"There's no rain and wind, the sky is clear, cars are traveling everywhere. I don't think there's a hurricane," Marc Andre, a 22-year-old motorcycle taxi driver, said over his cell phone.

Yet Haitians are accustomed to the power of such blasts. Flooding caused by storms and hurricanes killed more than 100 people in Haiti and scores in the Dominican Republic last year. In 2004, Tropical Storm Jeanne killed some 3,000 people in the Haitian city of Gonaives alone.

The hurricane was centered about 75 miles south-southeast of Port-au-Prince and was moving toward the northwest at near 9 mph.

On Monday, Carnival Cruise Lines diverted one of its ships from Montego Bay, Jamaica, to a Mexican port to avoid the storm, company spokesman Vance Gulliksen said. Other cruise lines said they were closely tracking its path.

In Jamaica, officials alerted shelters to prepare for possible evacuations during the storm that is forecast to pass near the island Wednesday.

The commander of the Guantanamo military base in Cuba, where the U.S. holds about 265 men, many suspected of belonging to al-Qaida or the Taliban, ordered U.S. military personnel to prepare for a hit.

Vulnerable to high winds are dozens of tents pitched on an abandoned runway where those attending war-crimes trials for alleged terrorists are housed. No hearings are scheduled this week.

Army Maj. Richard Morehouse, a spokesman for detention operations at the base, told The Associated Press that the lockups housing detainees "are capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds and rain."

Earlier this month, Tropical Storm Fay killed 23 people on the island of Hispaniola shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Nearly all were due to flooded rivers.

Meanwhile, the remnants of Fay brought heavy rain and winds from Georgia to Louisiana. Floridians were still mopping up floodwaters from a storm that stuck around for a week and made a historic four landfalls, dumping more than 30 inches of rain along the central Atlantic coast.

The National Weather Service said the vestiges of Fay would deluge northern Georgia, with 3 inches to 5 inches of rain expected in the Atlanta area and up to 8 inches in northeast Georgia. In Alabama, flash flood and tornado warnings were posted.

In Mexico, Tropical Depression Julio continued to weaken as it dumped rain on the central Baja California peninsula and the upper Gulf of California.

The National Hurricane Center said Julio was about 110 miles (180 kilometers) north-northwest of Santa Rosalia, Mexico, with sustained winds of about 30 mph.

For the latest information on Hurricane Gustav, visit the WTOK Online Hurricane Center.

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