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Hurricane Gustav Leaves 71 People Dead in the Caribbean

Gustav threatens Caymans after swamping Jamaica

 

The Associated Press, Aug. 29, 2008

 

KINGSTON, Jamaica - Deadly Gustav regained hurricane force as it roared across the Caribbean on Friday, and on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall, forecasters said for the first time there's a better-than-even chance that New Orleans will get slammed at least by tropical-storm-force winds.

 

Gustav ripped off roofs, downed power lines and pounded rain into Jamaica, triggering landslides and flooding and four deaths before moving out to sea Friday. That raised Gustav's overall toll to 71 lives after earlier deaths in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

 

Forecasters said Gustav reached hurricane force at 75 mph (120 kph) Friday afternoon and will likely grow into a major hurricane over deep, warm Gulf of Mexico waters this weekend, and that the center of the storm could reach the U.S. Gulf Coast on Tuesday.

 

"Strengthening seems imminent and could even be rapid," said the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

 

The chances of New Orleans seeing winds of 39 mph (63 kph) or more within five days was between 50 percent and 60 percent, it said, warning that weather models "diverge tremendously over the northern Gulf" and that the most destructive winds could strike almost anywhere along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

 

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said that victims of Katrina still living in 2,700 emergency trailer and 2,800 cottages along his state's coast should should begin evacuating on Sunday, ahead of Gustav.

 

Jamaica was sending army helicopters Friday to rescue 31 people trapped by flooding in a hilly region of southern St. Andrew parish, Prime Minister Bruce Golding said.

 

The government also evacuated low-lying areas and closed the capital's main airport, and more than 1,500 people huddled in shelters. Late Friday morning, police and firefighters were among the only people on the streets of Savanna-La-Mar as Gustav's winds howled through the western port city, blowing debris in the pouring rain.

 

"It looks pretty bad out there," said Lelith Garwood, a pastor's wife. "We are being ordered to stay home."

 

Two people were killed in Gordon Town and two others in St. Thomas, said Christopher Gayle, an emergency management office spokesman. No details were immediately available.

 

The hurricane center said the storm was centered 125 miles (200 kilometers) east-southeast of Grand Cayman and moving over open water toward the west-northwest near 11 mph (19 kph).

 

Officials in Cuba, next on Gustav's track, said they were preparing evacuations.

 

Gustav was forcing shutdowns of many offshore oil operations, causing hikes in global crude prices. Wholesale gasoline prices also were shooting up in the Gulf region, forcing filling stations to raise pump prices ahead of Labor Day weekend.

 

The Gulf has 4,000 oil rigs and half of America's refining capacity.

 

Hundreds of offshore workers have already been pulled out and analysts said the storm could send U.S. gas prices back over US$4 a gallon.

 

Meanwhile, still well out in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Hanna was marching westward and forecasters said it might pose a threat to the Bahamas by the middle of next week. It had sustained winds near 50 mph (85 kph). Little change in strength was expected Friday, but the hurricane center said Hanna could become a hurricane in the next few days.

 

With Hurricane Katrina's third anniversary falling on Friday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency to lay the groundwork for federal assistance. Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued a disaster declaration, and together they put 8,000 National Guard troops on standby.

 

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said he would order a mandatory evacuation of the city if forecasters predict a Category-3 strike  or possibly even a Category-2  within 72 hours. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was in the region monitoring developments.

 

At least 59 people died in Haiti from floods, mudslides and falling trees, including 25 around the city of Jacmel, where Gustav first struck land Tuesday. Eight more people were buried when a cliff gave way in the Dominican Republic.

 

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

 

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