Tropical storm Tomas was upgraded Friday to hurricane strength in the Caribbean, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
Meteorologists recorded maximum sustained winds of 80mph as the storm continued its track toward Haiti, where thousands of people are still sheltering in tent cities following the catastrophic January earthquake.
“The center of Tomas will pass near western Haiti this [Friday] morning, near or over extreme eastern Cuba today and near or over the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands later today or tonight,” the NHC said in a bulletin. “Some additional strengthening is possible [Friday], followed by a weakening trend beginning on Saturday.”
Haiti and parts of the neighboring Dominican Republic could see five to 10 inches of rain, with 15 inches in isolated spots, and rains “could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides over mountainous terrain,” the NHC warned.
Haitian authorities and nongovernmental groups were rushing to get people to safety and secure vital stocks of medicines and goods before the arrival of the storm.
“My sisters and brothers, leave the zones that are at risk, I beg of you,” Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive urged in a television address. “There will be rain and wind throughout the country. Don’t be stubborn. Leave if you are in a fragile shelter.”
Tomas threatened further havoc in impoverished Haiti just as it was battling a growing cholera epidemic that so far killed 442 people.
“Although the cholera outbreak has largely been contained to regions north of Port-au-Prince … Tomas could set back our efforts to contain the outbreak in the camps, as heavy rains cause pooling water that can increase spread of the disease,” the American Red Cross said.
Hurricane Tomas killed 14 people in Saint Lucia then weakened to a tropical depression before gaining a second life.