Gustav creeps toward Cuba as death toll rises

Tropical storm Gustav crept toward Cuba Wednesday after slamming the Caribbean as a hurricane a day earlier, killing at least 11 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Tropical storm Gustav ((NASA/MODIS image))

Tropical storm Gustav inched toward Cuba on Wednesday after slamming into Haiti and the Dominican Republic as a deadly hurricane a day earlier, killing at least 11 people.

Heavy squalls continued to batter Haiti on Wednesday as the storm stalled for several hours before resuming its northwest course.

At 11 p.m. ET, the storm was centred about 155 kilometres south of Guantanamo and was moving west-northwest at 13 km/h, the Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It had sustained winds of 75 km/h, with higher gusts.

Gustav is on course to pass between Cuba's southeastern coast and Jamaica early Thursday, then skirt Cuba's southern shore until Saturday.

The centre said a deviation of the forecast track could bring the storm centre very close to Jamaica.

Tracking toward Louisiana

CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said the storm is expected to regain hurricane strength over the next 24 hours.

Forecasters suggested it could become a Category 2 hurricane as it moves between Cuba and Jamaica, then head toward the U.S. Gulf Coast as a dangerous Category 3 hurricane next week after passing over warm waters.

But forecasters warn that the average error in five-day forecasts is about 500 kilometres in either direction, meaning the storm could hit anywhere from south Texas to the Florida panhandle.

Even so, New Orleans officials began planning for possible evacuations and advising those living along the coast to prepare.

Storm triggers higher oil prices

The storm could bring higher gasoline prices for drivers around the world over the Labour Day weekend. Global oil prices rose by $1.40 US early Wednesday to more than $117 US a barrel on worries the storm could disrupt output in the Gulf, home to one-quarter of American crude production.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC said it planned to evacuate workers from offshore rigs in the area as soon as Wednesday. Other companies also pulled non-essential workers.

"A bad storm churning in the Gulf could be a nightmare scenario," said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Alaron Trading Corp. in Chicago. "We might see oil prices spike $5 to $8 if it really rips into platforms."

A hurricane warning was in effect for parts of Cuba, including the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, which was preparing for any emergencies.

"My instinct is it will be a really wet night," base spokesman Bruce Lloyd said.

'No one will be forgotten': Castro

Gustav was bringing downpours to eastern Cuba on Wednesday, forcing some from their homes in Holguin province.

Former Cuban president Fidel Castro, whose brother now rules the island country, pledged in an essay that "no one will be forgotten" by the government.

The government of the nearby Cayman Islands was also preparing for the storm, ordering people to secure loose materials in their yards and telling them to stockpile food, medicine and fuel for generators.

As a hurricane, Gustav caused landslides and dumped torrential rains on southern Haiti, a mountainous area prone to devastating floods.

At least three people were confirmed dead. A man was killed in a landslide in the mountain town of Benet, civil protection director Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste said. Details about the other two deaths were not immediately available.

8 family members killed by storm

The Dominican Republic also reported eight people died in a landslide triggered by Gustav.

Luis Luna Paulino, director of the country's civil defence agency, said all eight were members of the same family living in the capital of Santo Domingo.

"They were all members of a family that had taken shelter since tropical storm Fay and left to go home because they thought the danger had passed," said Paulino.

More than 5,000 people across the country have been forced out of homes as a result of the storm, he said.

Santo Domingo is a city on the island of Hispaniola, shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Gustav slammed ashore in Haiti on Tuesday afternoon near the southern coast city of Jacmel with top winds near 145 km/h.

With files from the Associated Press