* Hurricane warning in effect for Florida Keys
* Isaac kills four, threatens heavy flooding in Haiti
* Forecast to become Category 2 hurricane in Gulf of Mexico
(Raises Haiti death toll to 4, updates storm position)
By Susana Ferreira
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Aug 25 Tropical Storm Isaac
dumped torrential rains on Haiti and flattened tent camps
housing survivors of a devastating earthquake, then began an
assault on eastern Cuba on Saturday.
Isaac killed at least four people in Haiti and was expected
to strengthen into a hurricane before hitting the Florida Keys
on Sunday and crossing into the Gulf of Mexico.
Fueled by warm Gulf waters, it was forecast to strengthen
into a Category 2 hurricane with 100-mph (160-kph) winds and hit
the U.S. coast somewhere between the Florida Panhandle and New
Orleans at midweek.
Isaac's march toward the Gulf comes as U.S. Republicans
prepare to gather in Tampa, on Florida's central Gulf Coast, for
Monday's start of their national convention ahead of the
November presidential election.
Energy operators in the Gulf of Mexico were shutting down
offshore oil and gas rigs ahead of Isaac.
The storm could spur short-term shut-downs of 43 percent of
U.S. offshore oil capacity and 38 percent of its natural gas
output, according to forecasters at Weather Insight, an arm of
Thomson Reuters. See a FACTBOX at: [ID: nL2E8JP1T1].
Isaac's rain and winds lashed Haiti's southern coast on
Saturday, flooding parts of the capital Port-au-Prince and
ripping through flimsy resettlement camps that house more than
350,000 survivors of the 2010 earthquake.
A 10-year-old girl was killed near Port-au-Prince when a
wall fell on her and a woman in the southern coastal city of
Jacmel was crushed to death when a tree fell on her house,
government officials said.
At a tent camp in the seaside slum of Cite Soleil,
corrugated plastic shacks were broken apart and water gushed in.
"We had never seen anything like this. Everyone fled to the
church, but I didn't want to leave my home. All my things are
wet," said Edeline Trevil, 47, who survived with her cat.
"I'm cold! I've been wet since last night," the shoeless
The storm caused power outages and flooding and blew off
roofs as it moved across the hilly and severely deforested
Caribbean country. Winds had died down by Saturday afternoon but
forecasters said rains would continue in Haiti.
EMERGENCY IN FLORIDA
Damage had so far been less than feared, said George Ngwa,
Haiti spokesman for the United Nations Office of Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. "Fortunately there are no reports of
serious damage," he said.
By late Saturday afternoon, Isaac's center was over eastern
Cuba, 120 miles (195 km) east of Camaguey, Cuba, the U.S.
National Hurricane Center said.
The storm had top winds of 60 mph (95 kph) and would become
a hurricane if those swirling winds reach 74 mph (119 kph). A
hurricane warning was in effect for the Florida Keys and the
southwest coast of Florida.
In Haiti, authorities and U.N. troops worked to clear debris
and fallen trees from roads.
The government and aid groups attempted to evacuate
thousands of tent camp dwellers on Friday but many Haitians
chose to remain in their flimsy, makeshift homes, apparently
fearing they would be robbed.
Chan Conga, who lives in a camp known as La Piste, tried to
ride out the storm in her tent. But it collapsed under Isaac's
winds and driving rains, forcing her to seek refuge in an old
cholera clinic packed with hundreds of other people.
"We prayed and sang all night," she said. "We asked God to
Flooding and mudslides were still a threat in Haiti, where
many people scrape by on less than $1 a day in the poorest
country in the Americas. Flooding could also reignite a cholera
epidemic, which has killed more than 7,500 people in Haiti since
the disease first appeared in October 2010, aid workers said.
In the Dominican Republic, Isaac felled power and phone
lines and left at least a dozen towns cut off by flood waters.
Nearly one million people were without power, emergency
The most severe damage was reported along the south coast,
including the capital Santo Domingo.
Rising winds and waves whipped eastern Cuba on Saturday
afternoon, prompting government alerts for 11 provinces. In
Cuba's easternmost city of Baracoa, water crashed over the
seawall and ran ankle-deep through the nearby streets.
CUBA IN STORM'S PATH
More than 1,000 people were evacuated to the homes of
friends and family ahead of possible flooding, Cuban TV said.
"We fear the sea and the flooding a lot more than the rain
and wind. It rains frequently here all year long, but when the
sea comes in everything floods," said Baracoa housewife Yamila
The storm was expected to pass directly over the town of
Moa, the center of the Cuban nickel-mining industry, but
officials said they expected no major problems and had enough
ore on hand to continue processing for up to five days. Cuba is
one of the ten largest nickel producers in the world.
In Florida, Governor Rick Scott declared a state of
emergency, an administrative step aimed at streamlining disaster
Emergency managers urged tourists to leave the Florida Keys
if they could do so safely on Saturday. A single road links the
chain of low-lying islands to the Florida Peninsula and the Key
West airport was expected to halt flights on Saturday evening.
At Cape Canaveral on Florida's east coast, squalls from the
storm delayed until next week the launch of a pair of NASA
satellites to study Earth's radiation belts.
Isaac has drawn especially close scrutiny because of the
Republican Party's convention, a four-day meeting during which
former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will receive the
party's presidential nomination.
Party officials said the convention would convene on Monday
as scheduled, but then recess until Tuesday afternoon.
Hurricane Center meteorologist Matt Sardi said Tampa could
be hit by coastal flooding, storm surge and driving winds and
"That looks like the main threat at this point," he said.
(Writing by Jane Sutton; additional reporting by David Adams,
Michael Connor and Kevin Gray in Miami, Irene Klotz in Cape
Canaveral, Jeff Franks and Nelson Acosta in Havana, Manuel
Jimenez in Santo Domingo and Erwin Seba in Houston, editing by
Vicki Allen and Todd Eastham)