With driving winds of up to 112 km per hour and heavy rain, Tropical Storm Isaac has passed over Haiti killing 8, taking two more lives in the Dominican Republic. Storm Isaac is expected to strengthen to hurricane force by the time it hits Florida.
With many still living in tents after horrific earthquakes in 2010, Haitians are once again picking up the pieces having now been battered by winds and rain.
Government reports state that 8,000 people were evacuated from their homes, and 4,000 moved to temporary shelters.
At least eight people have been reported dead in Haiti. One of the victims was a 10-year-old girl who died when a wall fell on her, according to the country’s Civil Protection Office. Another two deaths were reported in neighboring Dominican Republic.
The impoverished shanty town of Cite Soleil, a neighborhood in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, was hit hard by the storm. Approximately 3.7 million people live in the area around the capital, almost half the country’s population.
As the Grise River north of Port-au-Prince overflowed from storm surge and rain, water flooded Cite Soleil, forcing residents either to flee with whatever they could carry or stay and face the worst in an urban area that virtually lacks a sewage system. Those who fled carried whatever they could above their heads in waist-deep water.
"From last night, we're in misery," Cite Soleil resident Jean-Gymar Joseph told the Associated Press. "All our children are sleeping in the mud, in the rain."
Tents in earthquake settlements were quickly blown apart like twigs by the winds, leaving residents to save whatever they could amid the storm. Rachel Brumbaugh, operation manager for the US nonprofit group World Vision, said about 300 homes in Cite Soleil lost their roofs or were flooded up to one-meter deep.
The storm picked up fresh momentum as it moved through the warm waters of the Florida Straits on Sunday morning. Forecasters have warned it could potentially turn into a Category 2 hurricane by Monday as it moves over the Florida Keys and makes its way to the northern Gulf Coast. The states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida have declared a state of emergency.
The projected track and timing of Isaac is reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, killing 1,800 people.
In the Dominican Republic, several areas were also flooded or without power, as Isaac took down power lines in its path. Parts of the capital Santo Domingo were left without power before the storm passed on to Cuba.
Thousands were evacuated from Cuba’s coastal risk areas, as the storm surge overran the sea wall near the Eastern Cuban city of Baracoa, resulting in ankle-deep flooding. No major damage was immediately reported, but Cuba remains on alert at the prospect of heavy rain in Isaac’s wake.
After spending several hours over eastern Cuba, hugging the coastline at 27kph with winds up to 97kph, the storm moved northwest into the Gulf of Mexico, where it is expected to pick up strength before it hits the US coast.
It is expected that Isaac will make landfall in the US on Tuesday, with forecasters generally predicting the storm will develop into a hurricane-strength pattern with possible sustained winds of up to 160 kilometers per hour. However, it is not known precisely where it will make landfall. Possible trajectories for the weather pattern predict it will hit somewhere from the Florida panhandle to New Orleans.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Saturday to make sure local authorities would be ready to deal with any flooding that Isaac may bring. Also thrown into disarray are the plans for the Republican National Convention, set to convene in Tampa. The city is set to be directly affected by the storm.
The convention will open on Monday, but then recess to later Tuesday, presumably after the worst of the weather passes.
A hurricane warning is in effect for the Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas.