Almost three years after Haiti's worst natural disaster, Isaac carried more potential misery for a poor nation where floods have killed scores over the past decade.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Tropical Storm Isaac late Thursday churned toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where hundreds of thousands remain homeless in the earthquake-shattered capital of Port-au-Prince.
Almost three years after the country’s worst natural disaster, Isaac carried more potential misery for a poor nation where floods have killed scores over the past decade.
“They tell us to remain vigilant and prepare to evacuate. But where do you go?” said Anilia Paul, 54, a mother of six, standing under a tattered structure that doubles as a welcome center and classroom in the Tapis Vert (Green Rug) tent city. “We have 300 families living inside here. They have no place to go.”
Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola.
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Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said the tropical storm, despite its massive size, remained disorganized, with winds late Thursday of 45 mph, barely clearing the minimum wind speed for tropical storms. But they expect Isaac to strengthen to a Category 1 hurricane before it hits southern Haiti on Friday.
The forecast also reflected a continuing trend from computer models nudging Isaac west, with the center of the latest track crossing near Key West early Monday, and then keeping Isaac off the Gulf Coast.
Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said the odds were dropping for a direct impact on Florida’s East Coast but the storm was so large that much of the state is going to feel some impact as Isaac approaches the Florida Keys late Sunday.
“There is a growing confidence with the model consensus,” he said. “They all tick to the left.”
Forecasters predict Isaac could be at hurricane strength by Monday afternoon, when it would be off the coast of Tampa, site of the Republic National Convention, which is set to open that day.
Gov. Rick Scott said he was taking a “wait-and-see” approach as Isaac nears Florida, though he expressed relief that the track appeared to be moving away from Tampa.
“Right now, if you look at the projected path, it looks like we will have some rain, and some wind,” he said. “Really, the time to have a discussion about this is after it leaves Cuba.”
Though storms in the past have significantly weakened or dissolved over Haiti and Cuba, Feltgen said forecasters don’t see that happening with Isaac.
“The models are pretty consistent this thing is going to survive,” he said
Indeed, Isaac is expected to strengthen in the Gulf, where it could threaten from the Florida Panhandle to Texas next week.
For Haiti, Isaac’s rains are what will add to the misery of some 400,000 refugees of the 2010 earthquake who still live in makeshift tent cities around the capital.
Haiti’s government mobilized disaster committees and warned that the entire country could be affected.
“Do not panic,” Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said. “Panic can create more problems. It’s best to remain calm.”
Lamothe and other officials in Haiti said the government had set aside about $50,000 in emergency funds and had buses and 32 boats on standby for evacuations.
Forecasters predicted from eight to 12 inches of rain across Haiti, with up to 20 inches in some spots.
Isaac appeared to have spared the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico serious damage, but authorities feared there could be flooding.
The approach of the storm led military authorities at the U.S. base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to cancel pretrial hearings for five prisoners charged in the Sept. 11 attacks. They also evacuated about 200 people, including legal teams and relatives of Sept. 11 victims.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.