Nation & World

Gustav soaks Jamaica as U.S. Gulf coast watches warily

Tropical Storm Gustav closed in on Jamaica Thursday at near-hurricane strength while Tropical Storm Hanna formed in the Atlantic.

Hanna, the eighth named storm of the 2008 hurricane season, is spinning about 1,500 miles east-southeast of Miami with 40 mph winds. Forecasters said Hanna could grow into a hurricane by Labor Day but likely wouldn't threaten the U.S. coast until later next week, if at all.

Meanwhile, Gustav's winds increased to 70 mph from 45 mph overnight as it took a turn toward Jamaica. The center of Gustav was moving over the island's eastern shoreline at 2 p.m., about 40 miles east of Kingston.

Bradley Finzi-Smith said he was trying to put up his hurricane shutters in Kingston when a blast of wind blew his ladder several yards away.

''We are having strong gusts occasionally,'' said Finzi-Smith, an executive with Food for the Poor in Jamaica, a Delray Beach-based charity. "Nothing of a hurricane nature yet, but you can tell that it's coming.''

The Jamaican government issued evacuation orders for residents in low-lying and flood-prone areas. Public buses were taken off the roads, and the Kingston airport was closed.

Montego Bay, a usually bustling tourist haven, turned into a virtual ghost town with no one on the streets and most businesses locked up for the day. Shoppers filled supermarkets earlier Thursday, stocking up on canned food and candles, which some markets ran out of by 10 a.m.

National Hurricane Center forecasters now expect Gustav to regain hurricane status Thursday as it moves past Jamaica and toward the Cayman Islands. Gustav may continue intensifying over warm water, and forecasters said it could track into the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 3 hurricane by Sunday.

The five-day forecast cone projects a landfall Tuesday morning somewhere along the Gulf Coast, from southern Texas to the western tip of the Florida Panhandle.

Jamaica was under a hurricane warning as pouring rain and severe wind gusts blew across the island. Up to a foot of rain is possible, along with flooding and mudslides, forecasters said. Sixteen emergency shelters were opened in three parishes: Portland, St. Mary and St. Ann.

Jamaicans worried about the storm's effects on crops and infrastructure. The country was badly beaten up by Hurricane Dean, which passed close to Jamaica as a Category 5 storm last August.

The slow-moving storm could spend the day pounding Jamaica before approaching the Cayman Islands on Friday.

Visitors will not be allowed to enter the Cayman Islands until the threat of Gustav passes, and many tourists had already left, although the government has not issued mandatory evacuation orders, department of tourism spokeswoman Silvie Snow-Thomas said. Government offices are scheduled to close at 3 p.m.

In Haiti, disaster-relief officials on Thursday waded through flooded, hard-to-reach areas to get a clearer picture of the death toll and damage to crops and infrastructure. Hundreds of homes' roofs blew off when Gustav tore through Hispaniola as a Category 1 hurricane with 90 mph winds, causing at least 51 deaths in Haiti and eight in the Dominican Republic.

''We still can't send workers into certain areas because the roads have been cut off and some communities are not accessible,'' Pinchinat Pierre-Louis, of Haiti's Civil Protection Bureau, said to The Miami Herald.

The question remains: What will Gustav do once it gets over the deep, warm water of the Yucatán Strait and the Gulf of Mexico Sunday? Intensification is likely, and forecasters say Gustav's winds could exceed 115 mph by the time it makes landfall Tuesday on the Gulf Coast.

Emergency managers and residents throughout the Gulf, including New Orleans, where Friday is the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's devastating landfall, paid close attention to the storm and said they had evacuation plans ready in case Gustav becomes an imminent threat.

Miami Herald correspondent Conrad McLeod in Montego Bay, Jamaica, contributed to this report.

Related stories from Vida en el Valle

  Comments