Gustav closes in on Jamaica

KINGSTON, Jamaica, August 28, 2008 – A strengthening Tropical Storm Gustav is closing in on Jamaica on a path that could see its eye passing directly over the island later today, most likely as a hurricane.

A hurricane warning is in effect for the island in anticipation of Gustav, which triggered floods and landslides that claimed at least 23 lives in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The eye of the storm, with winds near 70 miles per hour, is expected to pick up more strength from the warm waters south of Cuba.

“Some strengthening is forecast during the next couple of days. Gustav could become a hurricane before moving over Jamaica,” the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said in its 11 am advisory.

“Gustav is moving toward the west near five miles per hour and a continued westward motion with a gradual increase in forward speed is expected today. A turn toward the west-northwest and northwest is forecast during the next couple of days. On this track, the centre of Gustav will move near or over Jamaica today and tonight, and near or over the Cayman Islands Friday night.”

The centre of the storm was 45 miles east of Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, and 350 miles east-southeast of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. A tropical storm warning remained in effect for the Cuban province of Granma and a hurricane watch is still in effect for all of the Cayman Islands.

“Gustav is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of two to four inches over southern Cuba and six to 12 inches over Haiti, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, with isolated maximum amounts of up to 25 inches possible. These rains will likely produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the NHC added.

The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) in Jamaica has opened emergency shelters, with the news that the storm is becoming more organised. It has also advised non-essential employees to remain at home until weather conditions improve.

Cuba is battening down as well, with tens of thousands of people evacuated from six eastern provinces.

According to the Granma newspaper, around 20,000 people have been evacuated in the east of the country; almost 11,000 people in Santiago de Cuba were taken to safer areas; in Las Tunas, 2,300 people have been evacuated; and at least 1,700 people had been evacuated in the central province of Ciego de Avila. Exact figures were not given for the thousands who have been evacuated from Holguín, Guantánamo, Granma and Camagüey.

Meantime, the eighth tropical storm of the Atlantic Hurricane Season has formed.

At 11 am, Tropical Storm Hanna was about 305 northeast of the Northern Leeward Islands. The system was moving toward the west-northwest near 12 miles per hour with winds near 40 miles per hour.

The NHC said a turn toward the northwest is expected later today and on that track, Hanna will move away from the Northern Leeward Islands and be centred well to the northeast of the Bahamas during the next few days.