August 28, 2008

Gustav Gains Strength As Hanna Begins To Form

Government offices in Jamaica closed as Tropical Storm Gustav gained strength and headed toward the island on Thursday.

Jamaican post offices, schools and tax offices closed their doors as the storm made its way toward the Gulf of Mexico oil fields.

"It was not raining heavily, so I decided to go out to work, but my employer said that I should go back and prepare for Gustav just in case it develops into a hurricane," said Trevor Bryan, a Kingston welder.

Emergency officials on the lush, mountainous island urged residents to avoid gullies and flooded waterways, evacuate low-lying areas and wrap important documents in plastic to protect them from water.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Hanna began to form in the Atlantic Ocean with 40 mph winds headed on an apparent track toward the Bahamas and Florida as soon as next week, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Crude oil futures rose more than $2 at one point to $120.50 a barrel before falling back to as low as $114.08. Traders have kept a close eye on Gustav's path as it may hit close to a cluster of oil and natural gas platforms off the Louisiana and Texas coast "“ a region that provides the United States with a quarter of its crude oil and 15 percent of its natural gas.

The seventh storm of what experts expect to be an unusually busy Atlantic hurricane season was 45 miles east of Kingston, Jamaica, by 11 a.m. EDT and its top sustained winds had risen again to 70 mph, just short of the 74 mph hurricane threshold.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal put New Orleans residents on alert for possible evacuations from Friday, the third anniversary of Katrina's strike.

Gustav claimed the lives of at least 23 people on Tuesday in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

"It is expected that Gustav will be a powerful hurricane as it moves into the southern Gulf of Mexico on Sunday," hurricane center officials said.

Katrina and Rita slashed Gulf oil production that year when they swept through as Category 5 storms on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity, damaging platforms and severing pipelines.

Energy companies shut down production and pulled workers from offshore rigs on Thursday. The International Energy Agency said member nations were prepared to release strategic oil stocks if Gustav deals a blow similar to Katrina and Rita.

Some computer models indicated Hanna would eventually turn to the west or even southwest and projected it would become an "intense" or "major" Category 3 or higher storm that could take aim at Florida or the Caribbean islands.

Katrina came ashore near New Orleans on August 29, 2005, as a Category 3 hurricane and flooded the city after swamping its protective levees. The hurricane killed 1,500 people along the U.S. Gulf Coast and caused at least $80 billion in damage.


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