October 30, 2010 / 1:33 PM / in 9 years

Hurricane Tomas hits east Caribbean, fears for Haiti

BRIDGETOWN (Reuters) - Hurricane Tomas lashed east Caribbean islands with winds and rain on Saturday, ripping off roofs and downing trees and power lines on a westwards track that could put earthquake-hit Haiti at risk next week.

Tomas, the 12th hurricane of a very active 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, damaged homes, knocked out power and blocked some roads with debris in St. Lucia and St. Vincent in the Windward Islands as it swept over, residents reported.

Earlier it had damaged homes in Barbados, where some people took shelter in schools and churches.

There were no immediate reports of deaths.

Packing top sustained winds of 75 miles per hour, Tomas was a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson five-step scale of intensity, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

At 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), Tomas was located about 10 miles northeast of St. Lucia, heading westward into the eastern Caribbean sea, the hurricane center said.

Forecasts showed Tomas strengthening on a track that would take it south of Dominican Republic and Haiti as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, with projected wind speed greater than 111 miles per hour, by the middle of next week.

“This is a very dangerous hurricane that is just beginning to get going,” hurricane expert Jeff Masters of private U.S. forecaster Weather Underground wrote in his blog.

“At this time, is appears that the Dominican Republic and Haiti are most at risk from a strike by Tomas, though the storm could move as far west as Jamaica, or as far east as the northern Lesser Antilles Islands.”

Haiti’s government and its international aid partners, which are already grappling with a major cholera epidemic that has killed at least 330 people and sickened over 4,700, were discussing contingency measures for possible severe weather impact from the hurricane next week.

‘LAST THING HAITI NEEDS’

With around 1.5 million homeless survivors from Haiti’s devastating January 12 earthquake living in tent and tarpaulin camps in the hilly capital of Port-au-Prince, authorities worried about the possible destructive effects of powerful winds and torrential rain on the vulnerable outdoor camps.

“A hurricane is one of the things we’ve been preparing for ... but we’re stretched to capacity handling the cholera epidemic,” Imogen Wall, the United Nations humanitarian spokeswoman in Haiti, told Reuters from Port-au-Prince.

“It’s obviously the last thing Haiti needs,” she said, noting that authorities were working on protection measures, as well as stockpiling emergency supplies.

In the Caribbean, a hurricane warning was in effect for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Martinique, while a tropical storm warning was posted for Barbados, Tobago, Grenada, Dominica.

Venezuela’s weather service reported high winds and heavy rain on its tiny, offshore Aves island, and forecast likely rain for its coastal provinces, including the capital, Caracas.

Far away to the north, Category 1 Hurricane Shary raced northeastward over the central Atlantic after earlier passing east of the British overseas island territory of Bermuda.

No serious damage was reported in the territory, a popular resort and global insurance hub.

Shary was expected to weaken and dissipate by late on Sunday.

The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season has produced 12 hurricanes, five of them major, but the United States has escaped a significant hurricane landfall so far.

Additional reporting by Sam Strangeways in Bermuda; Deisy Buitrago in Caracas. Writing by Pascal Fletcher; editing by Chris Wilson

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