First named storm of season mostly bypasses Haiti

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- People in flood-prone Haiti and the Dominican Republic awoke to good news Tuesday as it appeared the first named storm of the Atlantic season had largely spared their shared island.

The two countries on the island of Hispaniola are vulnerable to storms, with many impoverished people clustered along rivers, but there were no reports of major damage from the remnants of Tropical Storm Ana. The system had been downgraded to a tropical depression and then largely dissipated before reaching Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but rain was still considered a potential threat.

"The rain fell, but it did not hit anywhere very hard," said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti's civil protection department.

Haiti is particularly susceptible to catastrophic flooding because most of the trees have been stripped away to make charcoal and clear farmland and the bare, mountainous terrain cannot hold back the water. A series of storms last year killed hundreds of people and left thousands struggling to find food.

Authorities warned the Leeward Islands in the northeastern Caribbean to closely monitor the progress of Hurricane Bill, which was expected to become a major storm in the next couple of days, with winds topping 110 mph (177 kph).

Bill, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, was about 700 miles (1,140 kilometers) east of the islands with maximum sustained winds near 105 mph (165 kmh), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Forecasters said it appeared likely to move north on a track that would take it toward Bermuda by the end of the week as a major storm.

The U.S. Air Force planned to send a "hurricane hunter" aircraft out to Bill later Tuesday to gather more data about the storm, the center said.

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