Tropical Storm Tomas, with top winds of 40 mph, held to a westward track over the Caribbean Sea as Haiti braced for the system to strike as a hurricane at the end of the week.
“Haiti looks like they are really under the gun,” said Jim Rouiller, a senior energy meteorologist with Planalytics Inc. in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
A well-defined trough of low pressure moving into the Gulf of Mexico will turn the storm northward on Nov. 4, and weaker steering currents will slow its movement, Rouiller said. Tomas is forecast to strengthen and reach southern Haiti with hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph (119 kph) on Nov. 5 or Nov. 6, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
“The storm is going to be moving slower than first thought, which means really heavy rain and devastating flash floods and landslides,” Rouiller said.
Given its expected track, speed and intensity 2 to 4 inches of rainfall is expected in Port-au-Prince and possibly more than 4 to 8 inches south and southeast of the city, according to Jim Andrews, a senior meteorologist for AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. Slower storm movement could easily double the rainfall, Andrews said.
Haiti’s government, the United Nations and humanitarian agencies are working on a response based on a projection that the storm may affect 500,000 people, according to a statement on the website of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The nation is already reeling from a cholera outbreak and the aftermath of a magnitude-7.0 earthquake in January that killed an estimated 300,000 people and caused $7.8 billion in damage.
More than 1 million Haitians have been living in camps since the January earthquake, while an outbreak of cholera has killed 337 people and infected more than 4,764, the World Health Organization regional branch said yesterday.
“The storm is going to make a difficult situation even worse because cholera mainly spreads through water and more water supply disruption will increase the risks for cholera,” said Daniel Epstein, a spokesman for Pan-American Health Organization.
Tomas was 385 miles south of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, and heading west at 14 mph, according to a hurricane center advisory posted at 5 p.m. Miami time. A hurricane watch has been issued for Jamaica, according to the latest bulletin from the hurricane center.
The trajectory of the storm is expected to bring wind and rain to Haiti for several days and the departments of Southeast, South, Nippes, Grande Anse and West are at risk of flooding, landslides and winds, the UN agency said.
The UN said health facilities, roads and bridges may be weakened or damaged by winds and rain, hindering services to those affected by the storm.
The Haitian government has agreed to allow the U.S.S. Iwo Jima to dock in Port-au-Prince if needed for disaster relief, according to the UN. Emergency groups are stocking up on tarpaulins, blankets, soap, hygiene kits and rehydration salts, it said.
Tomas is the 19th storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. This year is the third- most-active on record, tied with 1995 and 1887, according to Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the hurricane center. In 2005, a record 28 storms formed in the Atlantic.