Tropical Storm Emily takes aim at vulnerable Haiti

Haitians are bracing for a fresh crisis as meteorologists warn that tropical storm Emily will sweep the island within hours, prompting fears of severe flooding in a country where hundreds of thousands are still without shelter.

Authorities in Haiti, which is still struggling to recover from the devastating earthquake of 2010, have advised people to store food and have set aside a fleet of buses for use in the event that residents have to be evacuated from flooded areas.

Emily is expected to hit Hispaniola, the Caribbean island consisting of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, by Wednesday evening.

Emily was about 60 miles southeast of Isla Beata in the Dominican Republic, near its border with Haiti, at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The worst rainfall is expected to miss the Haitian capital, but it could be enough to cause severe flooding and increased misery. A U.N. aid group distributed cholera prevention kits to help fight the waterborne disease, and the government set up a network of shelters.

Parts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti could see up to 20 inches of rain within 36 hours. Up to 6 inches are forecast in Port-au-Prince.

According to the International Organization for Migration about 634,000 Haitians are still living under makeshift tents and tarpaulins following the January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people and shattered the capital, Port-au-Prince.

"When there is ordinary rain we can't stay here because water is running through the tents and no one can sleep," said Wideline Azemar, a 42-year-old mother of four who lives under a tarpaulin in a squalid camp for homeless quake survivors in Port-au-Prince.

"Now they're talking about a storm with a lot of wind and rain. I really don't know what to do ... . Only God knows what he will do for us," she said.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Emily could dumpflashflooding as much as 20 inches of rain on parts of Hispaniola, the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Haiti is especially vulnerable to the threat of life-threatening flash floods and mudslides because of what experts describe as its near-total deforestation.

GOVERNMENT IN TURMOIL

Emily was closing in on Haiti less than 24 hours after lawmakers rejected Haitian President Michel Martelly's new choice for prime minister, blocking his efforts to install a government and move ahead with the task of rebuilding the quake-shattered country.

His supporters had argued unsuccessfully in parliament on Tuesday that preparations for potential disasters like hurricanes were among the leading reasons he urgently needed to put a government in place.

Pressing tasks in Haiti also include fighting a cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 6,000 people since October and could be exacerbated by flooding and contamination of food and water supplies.

With the political leadership in disarray, aid agencies and Haiti's Civil Protection Agency (HCPA) will have to bear the brunt of the tropical storm relief. Emergency services have sent texts alerting people to the approach of Emily, while the UN peacekeeping force has its troops on standby. Haitian emergency authorities set aside a fleet of 22 large white buses in the event they needed to evacuate people from flooded areas. Emergency workers would then bus the people to dozens of schools, churches and other buildings that will serve as shelters.

"We're working day and night to be able to respond quickly in case we have any disasters," said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, the HCPA director.

Emily, the fifth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, posed no apparent threat to oil and gas production facilities in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. But if it survives its trek across the high terrain of Hispaniola, the National Hurricane Center said weather conditions
appeared to support intensification later this week.

Tracking forecasts have shown Emily posing an uncertain threat as it
approaches the southeast U.S. coast, including Florida and the Carolinas, by sometime late on Friday or early Saturday.

But in its 5 p.m. EDT advisory, the National Hurricane Center said
"the threat to the southeastern United States will increase" if the storm failed to start taking a northwest turn.

Emily could strengthen into a low-level Category 1 hurricane on Monday, when it is projected to start moving out over the open Atlantic Ocean, forecasters said.

Source:
Reuters,"Tropical Storm Emily takes aim at vulnerable Haiti", accessed August 3, 2011
The Guardian, "Haiti braces for tropical storm Emily", accessed August 3, 2011
MSNBC News, "Tropical storm set to cross Dominican Republic, Haiti", accessed August 3, 2011

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