Hurricane Tomas hits east Caribbean, fears for Haiti

BRIDGETOWN (Reuters) – Hurricane Tomas battered east Caribbean islands with winds, rain and surf yesterday, ripping off roofs and downing trees and power lines on a westward track that will put earthquake-hit Haiti at risk next week.
Tomas, the 12th hurricane of a very active 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, strengthened as it swept over St. Lucia and St. Vincent in the Windward Islands, damaging homes, knocking out power and blocking roads with flooding and debris.
There were no immediate reports of any deaths.

“We have over 100 homes that have lost roofs. We expect that to increase,” said Michelle Forbes, head of the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) of St. Vincent.

Two people were injured while trying to secure their roof, and more than 500 people took refuge in shelters, she told Reuters.
Her NEMO counterpart in St. Lucia, Dawn French, said a hospital on the east coast of that island had its roof blown off.
Full damage assessments would be made today.

Earlier, Tomas damaged homes in Barbados, where some people took shelter in schools and churches.
Packing top sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 kph), Tomas was a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson five-step scale of intensity, the US National Hurricane Center said. Additional strengthening was forecast.
By last evening, Tomas was moving away from St. Lucia and St. Vincent, heading westward into the eastern Caribbean sea, the Miami-based hurricane center said.

Forecasts showed Tomas strengthening on a track that would take it south of Dominican Republic and Haiti as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, with projected wind speed greater than 111 miles (178 km) per hour, by Tuesday.
“This is a very dangerous hurricane that is just beginning to get going,” hurricane expert Jeff Masters of private US forecaster Weather Underground wrote in his blog.

“At this time, is appears that the Dominican Republic and Haiti are most at risk from a strike by Tomas, though the storm could move as far west as Jamaica, or as far east as the northern Lesser Antilles Islands.”

Haiti’s government and its international aid partners, which are already grappling with a major cholera epidemic that has killed at least 330 people and sickened over 4,700, were discussing contingency measures for possible severe weather impact from the hurricane next week.

With around 1.5 million homeless survivors from Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12 earthquake living in tent and tarpaulin camps in the hilly capital of Port-au-Prince, authorities worried about the possible destructive effects of powerful winds and torrential rain on the vulnerable outdoor camps.

“A hurricane is one of the things we’ve been preparing for … but we’re stretched to capacity handling the cholera epidemic,” Imogen Wall, the United Nations humanitarian spokeswoman in Haiti, told Reuters from Port-au-Prince.
“It’s obviously the last thing Haiti needs,” she said, noting that authorities were working on protection measures and stockpiling emergency supplies.

In the Caribbean, a hurricane warning was in effect for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Martinique, while a tropical storm warning was posted for Barbados, Tobago, Grenada, Dominica.

Venezuela’s weather service predicted high winds and heavy rain affecting its tiny, offshore Aves island, and forecast likely rain for the country’s coastal provinces, including the capital, Caracas.

Farther north, Hurricane Shary weakened to a post-tropical cyclone as it raced northeastward over the central Atlantic. It was expected to dissipate in the next six to 12 hours.

It passed east of the British overseas island territory of Bermuda, a popular resort and global insurance hub.
The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season has produced 12 hurricanes, five of them major, but the United States has escaped a significant hurricane landfall so far.