Hanna takes aim at Bahamas, Ike next in line

Published 2:05 pm Friday, September 5, 2008

Tropical Storm Hanna roared along the edge of the Bahamas on Thursday ahead of a possible hurricane hit on the Carolinas, leaving behind at least 61 dead in Haiti.

Hurricane Ike, a still-more-dangerous Category 4 storm, was advancing from the east.

Hanna was forecast to pass east of the Atlantic archipelago before striking along the coast of North or South Carolina by Saturday, but the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Hanna’s sprawling bands of outer winds are likely to hit far sooner. Tropical storm force winds extended outward as far as 315 miles from the center.

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Haitian authorities on Thursday blamed Hanna for 61 deaths, most due to flooding.

Civil Protection Department spokesman Abel Nazaire said 21 of the deaths were in the northern city of Gonaives, which has been almost entirely cut off by floodwaters.

The storm also was blamed for two deaths in Puerto Rico.

Hanna’s heart was about 205 miles east of Nassau — and about 670 miles south-southeast of Wilmington, N.C., near midday Thursday. It was moving toward the northwest near 14 mph.

Its maximum sustained winds slipped slightly to 65 mph (100 kph) Thursday, but forecasters said it could become a hurricane before hitting the U.S.

A hurricane watch was posted from Okracoke Inlet, North Carolina to Edisto Beach, South Carolina, with a tropical storm force watch south to Altamaha Sound, Georgia.

Forecasters said it could curve northeastward after hitting U.S. coast and run up the seaboard past New York with tropical-storm-force winds.

The storm snapped telephone lines in the eastern Bahamian island of San Salvador as it brushed past, said Quincy Poitier, who answered the phone at the Riding Rock Inn Resort And Marina, but there were no reports of injuries.

“Most certainly I am relieved. We are tranquil,” said Stephen Russell, interim director of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency.

He was already worried about Ike and Tropical Storm Josephine behind it.

“As soon as we are clear with Hanna, we have to turn our eyes now on Ike, a powerful one coming ashore,” Russell said.

By late Thursday morning, Ike had maximum sustained winds near 140 mph. It was centered 525 miles northeast of the Leeward Islands and forecasters said it could reach the Bahamas by Monday. It was moving toward the west-northwest at 16 mph.

Ike is the third major hurricane of the Atlantic season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The other two were Bertha and Gustav, which was blamed for 112 deaths in the Caribbean, including 76 in Haiti.

Josephine followed behind, with maximum sustained winds near 50 mph and was moving toward the west-northwest near 10 mph.

“We’ve got three of them on the way. We’ve just got to be prepared,” said Frank Augustine, a 47-year convenience store manager, as he bought 10 five-gallon water jugs under blue skies at a Nassau depot.

Only a few dozen of the Bahamas’ roughly 700 islands are inhabited, but they are near sea level and have little natural protection. In the south, Hanna knocked out electricity in Mayaguana Island and forced the closure of some small airports including those in Long Island and Acklins Island.

The storm has drenched the Turks and Caicos and Puerto Rico but wreaked the most havoc in storm-weary Haiti, where it flooded the western city of Gonaives.