/ 28 August 2008

Gustav turns toward Jamaica

Tropical Storm Gustav took a turn on Thursday, moving south as it crept toward Jamaica on a new track that could spare the hurricane-scarred United States city of New Orleans.

Gustav reformed to the south early on Thursday and became ”a little stronger”, blowing winds of 85km/h, the US National Hurricane Centre said in its latest advisory.

The eye of the storm, which already left 22 people dead in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was expected to pass ”very close” to Jamaica later on Thursday, the US National Hurricane Centre said.

Gustav, which struck Haiti as a category-one hurricane on Tuesday, could regain hurricane strength by Friday, the centre warned.

Its new position has it passing south of Jamaica as a tropical storm and reaching Grand Cayman Island as a hurricane later in the week before passing between Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and Cuba’s western tip, the centre said.

The revised forecast also predicts that Gustav could reach Louisiana on Tuesday instead of Monday, making landfall on the central coast rather than the east, where New Orleans lies.

The tropical storm pushed oil prices higher on Wednesday on fears that the storm could strike rigs when it moves to the Gulf of Mexico.

At 9am GMT, the storm was about 130km east of Kingston and 270km south of Guantánamo, Cuba, the centre said.

With memories of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 still fresh, US federal and Louisiana state authorities prepared for the worse to avoid repeating the slow disaster response of three years ago.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency on Wednesday and announced plans to begin evacuating coastal areas ahead of the storm.

”As long as there is a chance that we’ll be in this storm, I’ll be here in Louisiana,” said Jindal, warning he may miss next week’s Republican National Convention to name John McCain the party’s presidential nominee.

The US Department of Homeland Security urged Gulf Coast residents to get ready for the storm.

”Regardless of its predicted path, it is important for citizens in the Gulf Coast region to listen to what their local officials are advising over the course of the next few days and to take these simple steps to prepare,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, who was criticised for his administration’s botched response to Katrina, made plans to leave the Democratic national convention early so he could also help the city prepare for the storm.

Jamaica and the tiny Cayman Islands, a British overseas territory, were under a hurricane watch, but Jamaican tourism interests did not expect any fall out.

Josef Forstmayer, an executive of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association, said things should be ”pretty much back to normal” after Thursday.

A new tropical depression, meanwhile, formed in the Atlantic and has the potential to become the eighth tropical storm of the hurricane season on Thursday or Friday, the centre said. — AFP