Tropical Storm Emily takes aim at vulnerable Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE Wed Aug 3, 2011 5:37pm EDT

1 of 3. A homeless shelter is seen on the malecon as tropical storm Emily arrives to Santo Domingo August 3, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

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PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Emily took aim at Haiti on Wednesday, threatening to add to the misery of a chronically poor nation struggling to recover from last year's devastating earthquake.

Emily was about 60 miles southeast of Isla Beata in the Dominican Republic, near its border with Haiti, at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The storm, which had already unleashed rain over Haiti, was packing sustained winds of 50 miles per hour and its center was due to pass over southwest Haiti early on Thursday morning and then over extreme eastern Cuba Thursday night.

About 600,000 Haitians are still living under makeshift tents and tarpaulins following the January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people and shattered the capital, Port-au-Prince.

"When there is ordinary rain we can't stay here because water is running through the tents and no one can sleep," said Wideline Azemar, a 42-year-old mother of four who lives under a tarpaulin in a squalid camp for homeless quake survivors in Port-au-Prince.

"Now they're talking about a storm with a lot of wind and rain. I really don't know what to do ... . Only God knows what he will do for us," she said.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Emily could dump as much as 20 inches of rain on parts of Hispaniola, the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Haiti is especially vulnerable to the threat of life-threatening flash floods and mudslides because of what experts describe as its near-total deforestation.

GOVERNMENT IN TURMOIL

Emily was closing in on Haiti less than 24 hours after lawmakers rejected Haitian President Michel Martelly's new choice for prime minister, blocking his efforts to install a government and move ahead with the task of rebuilding the quake-shattered country.

It was the second rejection of Martelly's choice for prime minister in less than two months and a serious blow to the leadership of the former pop star, who was elected in March on promises to lift up the poorest country in the Americas.

"They took a political vote," Martelly told Reuters on Wednesday, as he headed into a meeting on storm preparations with Haitian Civil Protection officials. "It's the country that they are holding back," he said angrily.

His supporters had argued unsuccessfully in parliament on Tuesday that preparations for potential disasters like hurricanes were among the leading reasons he urgently needed to put a government in place.

Pressing tasks in Haiti also include fighting a cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 6,000 people since October and could be exacerbated by flooding and contamination of food and water supplies.

Emily, the fifth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, posed no apparent threat to oil and gas production facilities in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. But if it survives its trek across the high terrain of Hispaniola, the National Hurricane Center said weather conditions appeared to support intensification later this week.

Tracking forecasts have shown Emily posing an uncertain threat as it approaches the southeast U.S. coast, including Florida and the Carolinas, by sometime late on Friday or early Saturday.

But in its 5 p.m. EDT advisory, the National Hurricane Center said "the threat to the southeastern United States will increase" if the storm failed to start taking a northwest turn.

Emily could strengthen into a low-level Category 1 hurricane on Monday, when it is projected to start moving out over the open Atlantic Ocean, forecasters said.

(Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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