Isaac leaves 2 dead in Haiti, moves on to Cuba
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNN) — Tropical Storm Isaac left at least two people dead Saturday in Haiti after pounding camps where hundreds of thousands of people live in tents and knocking out power to most of the country.
Isaac then headed on to Cuba, hugging that island’s northern coast. Rain and some flooding were reported Saturday in Cuba, but the storm was moving in a northwest direction away from land.
Daylight revealed early signs of damage in Haiti, the impoverished nation still recovering from a devastating earthquake more than two years ago.
Jacmel Mayor Hugues Paul confirmed at least one death on the outskirts of his city, saying he is worried more deaths will be reported.
A 10-year-old girl also died when a wall fell on her house in Thomazeau, near Port-au-Prince, the country’s civil protection agency said.
At the Mega IV camp, where 8,000 Haitians live in makeshift shelters, fallen trees and flooding damaged hundreds of tents. Almost no one had evacuated the camp before the storm, and authorities were searching the camp tent-by-tent looking for victims.
Haitian radio reported that the worst damage was in the country’s southeast. At another camp, Canaan, half the tents were blown away, according to an official statement on the radio.
Haiti’s national electricity supplier said that 30 out of the country’s 32 electricity grids are down.
In Port-au-Prince, people were being evacuated to areas behind the presidential palace and also to a stadium.
In Jacmel, on the southern coast of Haiti, power was out, and heavy rain and strong winds persisted into the morning hours. Damage to trees and houses was visible, and there was little movement on the streets.
As many as 1,500 Jacmel residents took refuge in a school serving as a shelter.
Forecasters issued a hurricane warning for portions of the west coast of Florida and the Florida Keys.
As of 2 p.m. ET, Isaac — with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph — was 40 miles north of Guantanamo, Cuba, and moving at 17 mph, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.
The center of Isaac will move near or over eastern Cuba on Saturday, the center said, and near or over central Cuba by nightfall.
Cuban officials reported some storm surge and flooding from rain in far eastern Cuba, and about 200 people were said to be in shelters in the town of Baracoa. But so far no major damage or injuries were reported.
Gusts of wind also were being felt in Havana.
Strengthening is forecast as Isaac passes Cuba and moves over open water again, and it will approach the Florida Keys on Sunday, the center said.
Isaac may also become a hurricane by then, the center said.
Rainfall accumulations of 8 to 12 inches are expected, with up to 20 inches possible in portions of Hispaniola — the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Cuba issued a tropical storm warning for its eastern provinces, and the Bahamian government put Andros Island under a hurricane watch, the National Hurricane Center said.
A hurricane watch was issued early Saturday for Florida’s east coast, from Golden Beach south, while a hurricane warning was issued for the Florida Keys, the west coast of Florida, from Bonita Beach south, and the Florida Bay, according to the hurricane center.
A watch means hurricane conditions are possible, and a warning means that hurricane conditions are expected.
Forecasters believe Isaac may pose a risk to Tampa, Florida, where the Republican National Convention is due to kick off Monday.
For the moment, those believed to be at greatest risk from Isaac’s onslaught are some of the roughly 300,000 Haitians still living in temporary homes — primarily tents — following the January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000. At the height of the disaster, it forced more than 500,000 people into tent cities.
Haitian President Michel Martelly had visited camps to encourage people to go to shelters but acknowledged not everyone would be able get out.
“Those who are very vulnerable, they are moved out of these camps. And the ones who are remaining behind are those who are stronger to fight this situation,” he said Friday.
Power was out at the Bernard Mevs Hospital in Port-au-Prince, which has been operating on a generator since just before midnight, said Scott Gillenwater of the Project Medishare, which provides services at the hospital.
Outside, strong winds and rain pounded the capital.
“I can’t imagine tents being able to last through this,” he said.
Staff at Bernard Meds spent three days preparing for the storm’s arrival.
“We anticipate many crush injuries from mudslides to come into the trauma center,” Gillenwater said.
Some residents living in one tent community said they were staying put with their belongings and would ride out the storm.
Residents in Jacmel were worried Isaac would bring a repeat of the flooding the town experienced several years ago.
“I’m very worried about the water coming off the mountains and that the city fills up like a sink,” said Paul, Jacmel’s mayor.
Large amounts of rainfall will cause mudslides and runoff that can block roads, or worse.
“We watch those storms every single time they come near because Haiti is so vulnerable,” said Amy Parodi, a spokeswoman for the Christian humanitarian organization World Vision.
Elsewhere, storm preparations were under way.
Officials in Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, said three shelters would open Saturday for people who did not want to ride out the storm in their homes.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said it will be up to organizers of the Republican National Convention to decide the fate of the event.
On Saturday, Scott declared a state of emergency for Florida, what he called standard protocol to ensure all levels of government work together.
Florida evacuation decisions will be made by local governments, Scott said. As of Saturday, officials in the Florida Keys had asked tourists to leave the area.
Even though most of the state may catch a break, officials are taking the threat seriously.
“It has been a fortunate seven years since Wilma hit Florida,” National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb said, referring to the last hurricane to make landfall in the state. “The luck is going to run out at some point.”
CNN’s Karen Smith, Gary Tuchman, Martin Savidge and Danielle Dellorto and journalist Jean Junior Osman contributed to this report.