PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Tropical Storm Isaac swept across Haiti’s southern peninsula early Saturday, bringing flooding and at least three deaths while adding to the misery of a poor nation still trying to recover from the terrible 2010 earthquake.
The storm was heading into eastern Cuba around midday Saturday and forecasters said it poses a threat to Florida Monday and Tuesday, just as the Republican Party gathers for its national convention in Tampa.
Florida officials urged vacationers to leave the Florida Keys and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said a hurricane warning was in effect there, as well as for the west coast of Florida from Bonita Beach south to Ocean Reef and for Florida Bay, and it projected that Isaac could be a Category 2 storm by the time it hits the U.S. mainland, likely at the Florida Panhandle on Tuesday or Wednesday.
At least three people were reported dead. A woman and a child died in the Haitian town of Souvenance, Sen. Francisco Delacruz told a local radio station. A 10-year-old girl died in Thomazeau when a wall fell on her, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti’s Civil Protection Office. She said as many as 5,000 people were evacuated because of flooding.
Many, however, stayed and suffered.
In the shantytown of Cite Soleil, just north of Port-au-Prince, about 300 homes had either their roofs blown off or sitting in three feet (one meter) of water, according to Rachel Brumbaugh, operation manager for the U.S. nonprofit group World Vision.
“From last night, we’re in misery,” said Cite Soleil resident Jean-Gymar Joseph. “All our children are sleeping in the mud, in the rain.”
More than 50 tents in a quake settlement collapsed, forcing people to scramble through the mud to try to save their belongings.
Forecasters said Isaac could dump as much as eight to 12 inches (30 centimeters) and even up to 20 inches (51 centimeters) on Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as well as produce a storm surge of up to 3 feet (0.9 meters).
Isaac was centered about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, early Saturday, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph). It was moving northwest at 17 mph (28 kph).
Tropical force winds extended nearly 205 miles (335 kilometers) from the storm’s center, giving Isaac a broad sweep as it passes.
Forecasters said the storm was likely to march up the Gulf of Mexico, offshore of Florida’s west coast, as a hurricane on Monday, just as the Republican National Convention is scheduled to start. Tampa was within the tropical storm watch zone, meaning forecasters believe tropical storm conditions are possible there within the next 48 hours.
The most likely course, though, course would carry Isaac toward landfall on the Florida Panhandle late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Forecasters said it could be a Category 2 hurricane, with sustained winds of close to 100 mph (160 kph).
Cuba declared a state of alert Friday for six eastern provinces and five central provinces were put on preliminary watch. Vacationers in those regions were evacuated.
State television began an all-day transmission of news about the storm on Saturday.
Radio Baracoa, from the city of Baracoa on the northern coast of eastern Cuba, reported that high seas began topping the city’s seawall Friday night. Reports said lower than normal rains had left reservoirs well below capacity and in good shape to absorb runoff.
Cuba has a highly organized civil defense system that goes door-to-door to enforce evacuations of at-risk areas, largely averting casualties from storms even when they cause major flooding and significant damage to crops.
Near the island’s southeastern tip, the U.S. military was expecting winds of up to 40 mph (65 mph) at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a spokesman for the prison there.
Ahead of the storm, roads were closed to all but emergency vehicles, the Navy had suspended the ferry service that connects the two sections of the base across Guantanamo Bay and many smaller craft had been pulled from the water, Durand said. All 168 prisoners were in buildings capable of withstanding storm-force winds and the guards were bunking inside prison facilities instead of returning to their quarters for the night.
One hurricane and three tropical storms have hit the base since the U.S. military opened a detention center on the base in January 2002. The most recent was Hurricane Thomas in November 2010, when the Navy recorded winds of 60 mph.
In Port-au-Prince, a city of some 3 million ringed by mountains, authorities and aid workers tried to evacuate people from a tent camp to temporary shelters.
In the Dominican Republic, authorities said they evacuated nearly 3,000 people from low-lying areas, and at least 10 rural settlements were cut off by flooding, according to Juan Manuel Mendez, director of rescue teams. Power was out in parts of the capital, Santo Domingo, but there were no reports of injuries.
Organizers of next week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa were monitoring storm developments, and authorities said there were no plans to cancel the convention.
Out in the eastern Atlantic, former Tropical Storm Joyce degenerated into a weak low pressure system Friday.
Associated Press writers Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana, APTN journalist Fernando Gonzalez in Santiago, Cuba; and Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, contributed to this report.