Tropical Storm Isaac takes aim at Haiti

Posted Aug. 23, 2012, at 7:44 p.m.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Tropical Storm Isaac churned toward Hispaniola Thursday, a crossing that could determine the potential impact on Florida but almost certainly will prove devastating for Haiti, where hundreds of thousands remains homeless in the earthquake-shattered capital.

Almost three years after the country’s worst natural disaster, Isaac loomed on the horizon – yet another potential disaster in the making for an impoverished island nation where flash floods have killed thousands.

“They tell us to remain vigilante and prepare to evacuate. But where do you go?” said Anilia Paul, 54, a mother of six, standing underneath a tattered structure that doubles as a welcome center and classroom in the Tapis Vert (Green Rug) tent city near the airport. “We have 300 families living inside here. They have no place to go.”

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center’s forecast said that the storm, despites its massive size, remained disorganized and had actually weakened a bit, its winds dropping to 35 mph. But they still expected it to grow stronger before it reaches the southern coast of Haiti, probably sometime Friday afternoon.

The center’s 5 p.m. EDT forecast continued a trend of nudging Isaac west, with the center of the latest track crossing Key West sometime early Monday, then keeping Isaac off Florida Gulf Coast. But with the average error of a three-day forecast more than 75 miles, a jog could mean the difference between a crossing near Havana or a strike near Miami. Though Isaac was packing relatively we ak winds, it also was so large that South Florida was likely to feel some impact no matter which way Isaac eventually turns.

Forecaster predict Isaac could be at hurricane strength by Monday afternoon, when it would be off the coast of Tampa, where the Republic National Convention begins that day. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said the state was preparing for the worst – a major hurricane – but also hopeful the show would go on.

The governor said “hopefully that will not happen” and “everything’s going to work out.” But he also directed the state’s division of emergency management to activate the emergency operations center, and is holding regular meetings with a group of stakeholders.

In South Florida, emergency managers were continuing to monitor Issac and had not yet made decision about whether evacuations might be necessary.

In the Florida Keys, which would order a mandatory evacuation of tourists for a Category 1 hurricane, emergency management director Irene Toner said the decision may ride on whether Isaac weathers its crossing over mountainous Haiti. A number of storms over the years have dissolved in crossings or emerged weakened.

For Haiti, Isaac’s winds aren’t as worrisome as rains to add to the misery of some 400,000 refugees of the 2010 earthquake still live in makeshift tent cities around the capital of Port-Au-Prince.

The danger from flash floods and mudslides is even greater outside the capital, where crumbling hillsides stripped of vegetation have made much of the country’s often poorly built homes vulnerable. A series of storms in 2008 left hundreds dead and thousands homeless. In 2004, Tropical Storm Jeanne killed some 3,000 people in Gonaives when three rivers leading into the city spilled over, filling the northern coastal town with muck and boulders.

Forecasters are predicting 8 to 12 inches of rain across Haiti, with up to 20 inches in some spots.

Staff writers Tolu Olorunnipa in Tallahassee and Mimi Whitefield in Miami contributed to this report.

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2012 The Miami Herald

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