Monday 22nd September, 2008 Posted: 15:43 CIT (20:43 GMT)
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – A cluster of wind and rain nearing the Dominican Republic late Sunday was forecast to become a tropical depression and threatened to batter neighboring storm–devastated Haiti and the rest of the waterlogged region with more punishing rains.
The slow–moving weather system had been largely disorganized across the Atlantic in recent days but strengthened suddenly when it reached Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, said Jose Antonio Estrada, observations program manager at Puerto Rico’s National Weather Service Forecast office.
The storm was churning waves up to 10 feet (3 meters) high in southern Puerto Rico, and emergency officials in both the Dominican Republic and Haiti issued warnings for heavy rains. Haiti is still struggling to recover from three recent hurricanes and a tropical storm that killed 425 people and affected an estimated 850,000 residents.
People should be concerned, said Marie–Alta Jean Baptiste, head of Haiti’s civil protection department.
"There are still sites that are inaccessible" because of the previous floods, she said.
The new system will likely swipe the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic and then head north toward open sea, said Stacy Stewart, senior hurricane specialist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. The center said it was likely to become a tropical depression in the next couple of days.
An estimated 500 people have been killed by storms since the Atlantic hurricane season began June 1, most of them in the Caribbean. Five tropical storms and five hurricanes formed before Sept. 10 — the peak of the hurricane season. The season–long forecast calls for a total of nine hurricanes through November.
"By no means is the season over with," Stewart said. "We could see another four or five storms."