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Death toll from Hanna mounts in Haiti

Latest update : 2008-09-06

The death toll from Tropical Storm Hanna rose to 136 in Haiti amid fears that Hanna could gain hurricane status as it closes in on the US Atlantic coast. Meanwhile, Hurricane Ike has turned into an "extremely dangerous" Category Four storm.

A powerful hurricane and two tropical storms threatened Thursday to wreak more destruction in the northeastern Caribbean and the United States as the death toll in Haiti from Tropical Storm Hanna rose to 136.

Hanna pushed through the Bahamas and closed in on the US Atlantic coast after plowing through Haiti, where it triggered floods and landslides that left thousands homeless, local authorities said.

Hanna could strengthen and gain hurricane status on Friday before reaching the US near North or South Carolina, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Hanna "has been an erratic storm. It's already done a lot of flooding (and) we are expecting it to strengthen slightly" before Friday, NHC forecaster John Cangialosi told AFP.

At 0000 GMT Friday, the center of Hanna was about 940 kilometers (580 miles) south-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 125 kilometers (75 miles) east of Marsh Harbor, in the Bahamas.

Hanna was moving toward the northwest at about 22 kilometers (14 miles) per hour.

Forecasters expect Hanna to reach the US coastline by late Friday.

The system packed sustained winds of near 100 kilometers (65 miles) per hour, with higher gusts.

Meanwhile monster Hurricane Ike turned into an "extremely dangerous" Category Four storm on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale as it moved over the western Atlantic, packing maximum sustained winds of near 215 kilometers (135 miles) an hour.

At 2100 GMT Thursday the center of Ike was located north-northeast of the Leeward islands, moving in a west-northwesterly direction at around 22 kilometers (14 miles) an hour, the National Hurricane Center said.

Cangialosi described it as "absolutely a powerful hurricane," adding that "there is no immediate threat" to land. He said it was too soon to tell if it would track toward the US eastern coastline, or westward toward the Gulf of Mexico.

But forecasters expect it to remain a major hurricane and affect the Bahamas.

On its current forecast path the outer bands of Ike would also graze the northern portion of the island of Hispaniola -- the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic -- on Saturday.

A third system, Tropical Storm Josephine, was reported in the eastern Atlantic some 945 kilometers (590 miles) west of the southernmost islands of Cape Verde, moving in a west-northwest direction at around 17 kilometers (10 miles) an hour.

The storm, which disrupted shipping in the area but was not close to land, had maximum sustained winds of 75 kilometers (45 miles) per hour, with higher gusts.

"Little change in strength is forecast during the next couple of days," the Hurricane Center said.

The storms follow Hurricane Gustav, which ripped through the Caribbean then slammed the US Gulf Coast, and Tropical Storm Fay, which also pounded several Caribbean islands and made landfall in Florida four times, dumping record amounts of rain.

On Thursday Haiti's third largest city Gonaives remained under water in the wake of Hanna as Alta Jean-Baptiste, head of Haiti's civil protection office, said the toll had risen to 136, mostly in the Gonaives area.

She also said that flooding and landslides triggered by the heavy rain forced nearly 10,000 people into shelters -- not including thousands more who have evacuated Gonaives, a city of 300,000.

Senator Yuri Latortue, who represents the city, called the situation "catastrophic," saying some 200,000 people there had not eater for three days.

Hanna struck Haiti one week after it was hit by Hurricane Gustav, which killed 77 people. Two weeks ago, Tropical Storm Fay sparked flooding in the country that left about 40 people dead.

Impoverished Haiti is especially prone to flooding and landslides due to its mountainous terrain and acute deforestation.

Date created : 2008-09-05