Hurricane Elsa threatens Caribbean

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – Hurricane Elsa churned through the Caribbean early on Saturday (July 3), bringing powerful winds and threatening to pile further misery on violence-wracked Haiti.

The Category 1 storm weakened slightly overnight and was packing maximum sustained winds of 120kmh.

At 5am (5pm Singapore time), it was just south of Hispaniola – which is made up of Haiti and the Dominican Republic – and moving north-west at 50kmh, the United States National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.

“On the forecast track, Elsa will move near the southern coast of Hispaniola later today and tonight, and move near Jamaica and portions of eastern Cuba on Sunday,” the NHC said.

“By Monday, Elsa is expected to move across central and western Cuba and head towards the Florida Straits.”

It said Elsa could bring a tidal surge of as much as 1.5m above normal on Cuba’s southern coast; up to 1.2m on the southern coast of Hispaniola; and up to 0.9m on the coast of Jamaica.

Rainfall, storm surges and strong winds from Elsa could affect the Florida Keys and parts of the Florida peninsula early next week, but this depends on how the storm behaves this weekend when it hits large Caribbean islands, the NHC said.

Hurricane-related weather would be bad news for the Florida town of Surfside, near Miami, where rescuers are trying to dig out a collapsed condo building in search of survivors and bodies.

In Haiti on Friday, the authorities expressed worry that they lack emergency supplies such as food and water.

A good part of the emergency resources the government did have were used in another crisis: The evacuation of thousands of people from their homes in Port-au-Prince because of raging gang violence.

Many of these people are staying in gyms, schools or other public buildings, and some of the supplies that had been earmarked for the hurricane season have been used on these evacuees, said Mr Jerry Chandler, director of the Haitian Civil Protection Agency.

As the hurricane approached, the authorities declared a weather alert on Friday.

The authorities want to ship emergency supplies to the southern coast, which is most threatened. But heavily armed gangs control part of the only road leading from the capital to the south, and they do not let everything through.

To reach these threatened areas, Mr Chandler said they have “to go through red zones”, referring to gang-held territory.

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew killed more than 500 people in southern Haiti and caused nearly US$2 billion (S$2.69 billion) in damage.

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