Death toll climbs as Gustav barrels through Caribbean

August 29, 2008 12:00 am

, KINGSTON, August 29 – Tropical Storm Gustav battered on Friday, dumping rain and ripping roofs off homes and threatened to grow into a hurricane after leaving 59 people dead in and the .

Anxiety also grew on the US Gulf Coast on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and authorities in New Orleans were planning a possible mandatory evacuation to prevent a repeat of the devastation and deaths wreaked earlier.

Authorities in Louisiana and Mississippi have already declared states of emergency before Gustav’s expected landfall late Monday as a hurricane.

Gustav was forecast to pummel the Cayman Islands and the western tip of before turning north and entering the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend.

The center of the storm was expected to move back over water later Friday, where it could mushroom into a hurricane later in the day or Saturday, the US National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory.

Gustav’s powerful winds ripped off roofs and threatened to wreak havoc on ‘s banana industry, officials said. Maximum sustained winds slowed to 100 kilometres (65 miles) per hour early Friday.

The two international airports in were closed and the government urged residents to stay indoors. Streets in the capital city of Kingston were deserted.

The storm could dump up to 25 inches (30 centimetres) of rainfall in parts of and trigger mudslides, flash floods and tidal flooding like those seen in .

Civil defence officials in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince said Thursday that 51 people died, seven went missing and 22 had been injured from the ravages of the storm and subsequent flooding.

Gustav struck the island of Hispaniola, shared by the and , as a Category One hurricane on Tuesday.

Thursday, thousands of Haitians were still in emergency shelters, receiving government and NGO aid.

Gustav destroyed untold numbers of homes, bridges and other structures after floodwaters inundated entire villages in .

Officials said the death toll could rise.

"There are regions affected by the storm that our teams have not been able to reach," civil protection director Alta Jean-Baptiste told reporters in Port-au-Prince, adding that most of the deaths occurred in ‘s southeast.

"The majority of victims died when their houses collapsed, or were killed by falling trees. Others drowned when they tried to cross swollen rivers," she said.

The impact of the storm was worse coming just days after Tropical Storm Fay, which had lashed the Caribbean with severe winds and flooding.

In the , Gustav left a wide swathe of destruction killing eight people and forcing more than 6,000 to abandon their homes, local authorities said.

In , more than 60,000 people were evacuated in eastern provinces as a precaution, authorities said.

Meanwhile, the eighth tropical storm of the hurricane season, dubbed Hanna, was churning in the Atlantic and has the potential to become a hurricane.

British oil group BP and rivals ConocoPhillips and Shell on Thursday evacuated workers from their energy installations in the Gulf of Mexico, as Gustav loomed.

ExxonMobil said it was preparing for the storm and "identifying personnel for possible evacuation to shore."

About a quarter of crude oil installations are located in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil prices fell sharply Thursday, however, as traders discounted the threat of the storm.

New York‘s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in October, fell 2.56 dollars to close at 115.59 dollars per barrel.

In London, Brent North Sea crude for October shed 2.05 dollars to settle at 114.17 dollars.

"The latest forecasts for Tropical Storm Gustav suggest a slightly lower chance of major disruptions in oil production," said Al Goldman, analyst at Wachovia Securities.


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