Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Eastern Seaboard on Alert as 3 Storms Line Up; Florida, Carolinas Possible Targets

As Hurricane Season Reaches its Peak, There Could be Plenty More After Hanna, Ike and Josephine; Ike Now a Category 1 Hurricane; All Three Storms Could Strike the Atlantic Seaboard Within a Week

Parade of storms: As the remnants of Hurricane Gustav (left) continue to dump torrential rains on northern Louisiana, eastern Texas and Arkansas, Tropical Storm Hanna (center) roars through Haiti and the Dominican Republic while Hurricane Ike (right) churns in the open Atlantic. The latter two cyclones -- along with Tropical Storm Josephine (not pictured), which formed late Tuesday in the eastern Atlantic -- and all three could roar up the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard in the next week. (Photo: NASA via The Miami Herald)

(Posted 5:15 a.m. EDT Wednesday, September 3, 2005)
(Updated 6:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday, September 3, 2008)

By Skeeter Sanders

As northern Louisiana, Arkansas and eastern Texas continued to get drenched by heavy rains from the remnants of Gustav, the Eastern Seaboard from Florida to the Carolinas is bracing for a possible 1-2-3 assault by Hanna, Ike and Josephine in the next few days.

Tropical Storm Ike intensified Wednesday into the fifth hurricane of the 2008 Atlantic season, but Hanna, which remained a tropical storm meandering through the Caribbean, was a more immediate concern.

At 5 p.m. EDT, Ike's top winds were clocked at 80 mph, but the storm was still far out in the Atlantic Ocean and not forecast to threaten Caribbean islands until at least Saturday afternoon.

Where Ike will go from there remains uncertain. It could move up the east coast -- as Hanna is projected to do this weekend -- or it could continue on a westbound track through the Caribbean and move into the Gulf of Mexico, essentially following the same path as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

Hanna, meanwhile, was drenching the Bahamas and Haiti with torrential rains. The storm killed 16 people in Haiti, government official Abel Nazaire said Wednesday. More rainfall, up to 15 inches in some places, was possible in the Caribbean.

Hanna was forecast to return to hurricane strength by Friday as it moves up the east coast of the southern U.S., with landfall predicted on the coast of the Carolinas either late Friday or early Saturday.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Josephine, with top winds near 60 mph, was about 305 miles west-southwest of the southernmost Cape Verde Islands off western Africa. Josephine showed signs of development and was expected to reach hurricane strength Wednesday as it tracks over warm, open water past the Cape Verde Islands.

Josephine's track also remains uncertain for now; it could veer to the northwest and threaten the Carolinas. Or it could continue on a westerly course toward Florida.

Above-Average Hurricane Season Nearing Its September Peak

The June 1-to-November 30 Atlantic hurricane season is just over half-way finished, with the first half of September traditionally the most active period of the season. An average hurricane season has 11 named storms, with three major hurricanes of Category 3 (110-129 mph) or stronger.

The National Hurricane Center's 2008 forecast called for a more active than average season, with 14 to 18 named storms -- including as many as five major hurricanes. To date, there have been 10 named storms this season, but there were no major hurricanes -- until Gustav.

''We are well on our way to having an active season,'' said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the NHC. "All the ingredients are there for the storms to surface.''

On Tuesday, a combination of wind shear from a high-pressure system further north and Hannas' eye passing over land as it moved through Haiti caused the hurricane to weaken to a tropical storm with 65 mph winds. But forecasters at the hurricane center said Hanna could regain hurricane strength later today (Wednesday) as it moves in a northwesterly direction through the Bahamas toward the U.S. East Coast.

Hanna could make landfall by late Friday in South Carolina, but a slight deviation in its track could send it plowing into Florida. "It is too early to tell,'' said Feltgen.

But Florida Governor Charlie Crist isn't taking any chances. He declared a state of emergency Tuesday in preparation for Hanna and warned coastal residents to be prepared to evacuate if it grows to be as strong as forecast and takes direct aim at the Sunshine State.

Haiti, Still Reeling from Gustav, Hammered by Hanna -- With Ike On the Way

In Haiti, where Gustav killed 79 people and destroyed at least 10,000 homes last week, Hanna flooded many low-lying northern areas and reportedly caused 10 more deaths.

Gonaives, Haiti's second-largest city, "practically doesn't exist,'' said Eberle Nicolas, a Haitian agronomist. The submerged town is located about 75 miles north of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Floodwaters overtopped riverbanks in Gonaives and the northern coast town of Port-de-Paix, sending people fleeing to rooftops to escape the rising water.

Prime Minister Michéle Pierre-Louis tried to tour Gonaives but was turned away by the high water, and the storm prevented rescue helicopters from searching for victims.

''The situation is grave,'' Salvador Guillet, the mayor of Port-de-Paix, told The Miami Herald. "This is perhaps the most difficult moment we've experienced in our history.''

And there's more to come: Forecasters warn that Ike is likely to follow the same path as Gustav and Hanna as a Category 2 hurricane and could deliver a deadly third strike to the island nation on Saturday.

''It would not be good for us,'' Guillet said.

Gulf Coast Evacuees Begin to Return Home after Gustav

Meanwhile, as Gustav disintegrated Tuesday into a slow-moving cluster of heavy rainstorms in Arkansas and eastern Texas, residents who evacuated coastal areas in Louisiana and Mississippi began the long journey back home.

New Orleans residents can begin returning to their homes on Thursday, Mayor Ray Nagin said Tuesday night, but he urged them to be aware of the hardships they will face. "The picture's not as good as we thought it would be," Nagin said almost 36 hours after Hurricane Gustav roared into the state with 110 mph winds.

The loss of electrical power was New Orleans and Louisiana's biggest problem. More than half the state's residents -- 1.4 million households -- were lacking electricity Tuesday, Gov. Bobby Jindal said. Some may not get it back for weeks.

Up to two million people were evacuated from the Gulf Coast over the weekend -- including all but 10,000 residents of New Orleans -- as Gustav roared toward landfall amid fears that it would slam into the Crescent City as a devastating, Katrina-sized Category 5 hurricane with more than 155 mile-per-hour winds.

Gustav had been a Category 4, with winds of 150 mph, when it passed over Cuba and into the warm waters of the gulf on Sunday. But it weakened to a Category 2 (110 mph) and veered slightly to the west, avoiding a direct hit on New Orleans and making landfall about 75 miles to the southwest of the Crescent City.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said evacuating was the right call.

"I got questions asking, 'Wasn't this a false alarm?' '' Chertoff told The Miami Herald. "Nothing could be farther from the truth.

''And the reason I mention this,'' Chertoff continued, "is we have another storm bearing down on the United States, which is Hanna.''

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Volume III, Number 52
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.