September 4, 2008

Devastating Hurricanes Gain Steam In The Atlantic

Tropical Storm Ike intensified into a hurricane on Wednesday while Tropical Hanna threatened to do the same.

Hanna's heavy rainfall has already put parts of Haiti underwater, stranding residents. President Rene Preval warned of an "extraordinary catastrophe" equaling or surpassing a storm that killed more than 3,000 people four years ago.

Forecasters predict Hanna will move across the northern Bahamas, and strengthen into a hurricane on Thursday before hitting the U.S. near the North Carolina coast on Saturday.

Hurricane Ike swept across the open Atlantic with sustained winds of 80 mph.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center believes Ike could become a Category 3 hurricane before hitting Cuba and the southern Bahamas next week.

Tropical Storm Josephine followed Ike through the Atlantic but has begun to weaken.

The mass of storms follows Hurricane Gustav, which passed over Haiti last week and killed 75 people.

The new set of storms are adding to the hurricane season frustrations for U.S. oil and natural gas producers in the Gulf of Mexico, and for those living along the U.S. coast and in the Caribbean.

During the hurricane season, which lasts half a year, government officials have forecast 14 to 18 tropical storms will form. That season began on June 1.

Josephine was already the 10th, forming before the statistical peak of the season on September 10.

The 2005 season blew through records. It had 28 total storms and included deadly Hurricane Katrina.

Officials in Haiti were counting the scores of people killed by Gustav, while Hurricane Hanna struck the poverty stricken nation Monday night.

Hanna caused flooding and mudslides that killed at least 61 people in the island nation of Haiti, including 22 in the low-lying port of Gonaives.

Officials believe the death toll will rise as floodwaters receded and rescuers traveled to remote areas.

"We are in a really catastrophic situation," said President Preval, who planned to hold emergency talks with representatives of international donor countries to ask for monetary aid.

"It is believed that compared to Jeanne, Hanna could cause even more damage," he said.

Deadly Jeanne sent floodwaters and mud flowing into Gonaives. It destroyed other parts of Haiti's north and northwest in September 2004, killing more than 3,000 people.

Two days after floodwaters hit the area, Gonaives residents were still stranded on their rooftops.

"There are a lot of people on rooftops and there are prisoners that we cannot guard," Preval said.

Since Monday, Hanna had hovered off Haiti's coast.

It destroyed crops in a desperately poor nation that is already struggling with food shortages.

Hanna also triggered widespread flooding in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

The Miami-based hurricane center said Hanna was easing off its early post, and had begun moving northward with top winds of 60 mph (95 kph).

By the end of the week, it was forecast to turn northwest across the central and northern Bahamas, and then hit the U.S. coast in North Carolina on Saturday.

Forecasters say it's too early to say where Ike might make landfall.

The storm is churning through the Caribbean, but has drawn the attention of energy companies running the 4,000 offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. The platforms provide the United States with a quarter of its crude oil and 15 percent of its natural gas.

Josephine was swirling over the far eastern Atlantic about 375 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands last Wednesday. Forecasters say it was headed westbound, but was starting to weaken.


On the Net: