Tropical Storm Isaac lashes Cuba, with Florida Keys in sights - Chicago Tribune
August 26, 2012|Jeff Franks | Reuters
HAVANA (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Isaac, back over warm ocean waters, lashed Cuba with winds and rain as it swept toward the Florida Keys, where it was expected to strike on Sunday as a minor hurricane.
The storm left six dead in Haiti, still recovering from a 2010 earthquake, and at least three missing in the Dominican Republic after battering their shared island of Hispaniola on Saturday.
No deaths or injuries had been reported in Cuba, which got off lightly when the storm crossed its eastern flank instead of raking up the length of the island as originally predicted, but still suffered damages.
Though still 340 miles east-southeast of Key West, it was already causing problems in the United States.
Energy producers in the Gulf of Mexico were shutting in production and the U.S. Republican Party said it would recess its national convention in Tampa, Florida for a day out of safety concerns as the storm bore down on the state.
The storm could force a short-term shut-down of 43 percent of U.S. offshore oil capacity and 38 percent of its natural gas output, according to forecasters at Weather Insight, an arm of Thomson Reuters.
Republicans, who will formally nominate former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate for the November election, will convene their four-day meeting on Monday as scheduled, then recess until Tuesday.
Tampa, located on Florida's west coast, could feel the effects of Isaac, whose tropical storm force winds extend 200 miles from its center.
In its latest advisory, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Isaac was 65 miles northeast of the Cuban city of Camaguey and cruising northwest at 17 miles per hour.
Its top winds were near 60 miles per hour, but the center said it appeared to be gathering steam and was expected to be at or near hurricane strength when it reached Key West, 90 miles north of Cuba.
A storm becomes a hurricane when sustained winds reach a minimum of 74 miles per hour.
After passing through the Keys, Isaac was expected to move into the northeastern gulf, add more punch and hit the Florida panhandle or further west as a Category 2 storm with 100 mile per hour winds.
CRASHING WAVES, FLOODING
The Cuban Meteorological Institute warned the storm could do more damage to the communist island because it was expected to run near and parallel to the northern coast all the way into the Florida Straits, which separate the U.S. and Cuba.
Radar showed most of Isaac's powerful rainstorms were north of the island, but eastern Cuba, hit hard on Saturday, was still getting downpours that dropped more than three inches (80 mm) of rain in three hours.
As the storm moved closer to Havana, wind gusts and driving rains intermittently hit the city.
Baracoa, the island's easternmost city, appeared to get the worst of the storm, which sent 13-foot waves crashing over the seawall and into the streets. Cuban TV reports said more than a thousand people had to be evacuated and 50 buildings were damaged.
"The force of the waves has destroyed the farmer's market for small businesses, also the children's area of a park and various homes," said Baracoa resident Olider Aguilera by telephone. "But I can tell you that the people are not afraid. They're accustomed to meteorological phenomena stronger than this," he told Reuters.
In Haiti, Isaac added to the misery of more than 350,000 survivors of the 2010 earthquake still living in flimsy resettlement camps as water gushed into tents and corrugated plastic shacks ripped apart by the wind.
Authorities said six people were known dead, including a 10-year-old girl killed when a wall fell on her and a woman crushed to death by a falling tree.
Many main roads were blocked or impassable and 14,000 people had been evacuated to shelters, they said.
In the Dominican Republic, officials said three people were missing, including the mayor of a town near Santo Domingo swept away as he tried to save another person from a flooded river.
They said 764 homes had been damaged by the storm and more than 9,600 people evacuated from storm-struck areas.
(Additional reporting by David Adams, Jane Sutton and Kevin Gray in Miami; Nelson Acosta in Havana, Susana Ferreira in Port-au-Prince and Manuel Jimenez in Santo Domingo; editing by Todd Eastham)