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Sunday, August 26, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.

Isaac drenches Haiti, Cuba, heads toward Florida

By Jacqueline Charles, Cammy Clark and David Ovalle
The Miami Herald

MIAMI — Tropical Storm Isaac crossed Haiti on Saturday, killing at least four people, pushed over Cuba in the afternoon, and was expected to build to hurricane strength as it churns ominously toward South Florida.

Forecasters said Isaac poses a threat to Florida on Monday and Tuesday, just as the Republican Party gathers for its national convention in Tampa. It could hit the Florida Panhandle as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of nearly 100 mph.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency, and officials urged vacationers to leave the Florida Keys.

Scott, on a brief stop in South Florida, said Saturday that Isaac's current path "is not positive for our state."

"The most important thing is continue to get prepared, to have a plan in place," said the governor, who visited Broward County's Emergency Operations Center.

Local officials said schools would close Monday in several counties.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) placed the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida under a hurricane warning, with Isaac expected to approach Sunday as a 75- to 80-mph hurricane, veering across the Lower Keys. Forecasters included Tampa in the storm-watch zone, predicting Isaac would continue north off the state's west coast as a hurricane on Monday.

NHC Director Rick Knabb said flooding from storm surge was a possibility as Isaac passes off the coast.

Scott said during a media briefing that Republican National Convention delegates were being told how to stay safe during a storm, and officials were ready for storm surge, bridge closures and other problems that could arise during the convention.

On Saturday afternoon the northern coastline of Cuba was feeling the brunt of Isaac's weather.

Havana's Meteorological Institute reported that the storm hit Maisi, a municipality east of Guantánamo.

Radio Baracoa reported that two homes in the island nation's easternmost city of 48,000 had collapsed and that the storm surge had thrown up debris on its seaside Malecon boulevard and nearby streets.

But the storm's drama fizzled at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where the military had scrapped this month's Sept. 11 terror-trial hearings and evacuated staff and observers from the crude compound called Camp Justice.

"The bad weather did not materialize here as Tropical Storm Isaac turned away and headed up the east coast of Cuba," said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, the detention-center spokesman.

The base did not report any damage or injuries in what amounted to a splash of summertime rain. Soldiers embarked on late-morning runs around the 45-square-mile base, while the commander ordered the cafeterias reopened in time for 5:30 p.m. supper.

The storm's center spent just a few hours over Cuba before returning to the sea, where Isaac was expected to pick up strength in the warm waters of the Florida Straits.

The sprawling storm could produce from 6 to 10 inches of rain and powerful gusts across much of South Florida, with tropical-storm-force winds beginning to buffet the Keys Sunday and rising to hurricane force.

Squalls that drenched South Florida overnight and Saturday morning weren't part of Isaac but a hint of rough weather to come.

Scott also issued an executive order, a standard procedure before a storm or hurricane makes landfall, to allow adequate time for cities and counties to begin preparing.

The order directs all state agencies, including the Florida National Guard, to provide any needed assistance to local governments.

The state's emergency-operations center is also fully activated.

At least four people were reported dead in Haiti. A woman and a child died in the town of Souvenance, Sen. Francisco Delacruz told a local radio station.

A 10-year-old girl died in Thomazeau when a wall fell on her, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti's Civil Protection Office. She said as many as 5,000 people were evacuated because of flooding.

Many, however, stayed and suffered.

The Grive River overflowed north of Port-au-Prince, sending chocolate-brown water spilling through the sprawling shantytown of Cite Soleil, where many people grabbed what possessions they could and carried them on their heads, wading through waist-deep water.

"From last night, we're in misery," said Cite Soleil resident Jean-Gymar Joseph. "All our children are sleeping in the mud, in the rain."

Scores of tents in quake settlements collapsed, including more than 50 in Cite Soleil, forcing people to scramble through the mud to try to save their belongings.

About 300 homes in Cite Soleil lost their roofs or were flooded with 3 feet of water, according to Rachel Brumbaugh, operation manager for the U.S. nonprofit group World Vision.

Doctors Without Borders said it anticipated a spike in cholera cases due to flooding, and it was preparing to receive more patients.

"I wasn't able to save anything; everything's gone," a distraught resident, Marc Henri-Louis, cried as she stood by the street watching her flooded house.

A few feet away, a group of young men loitered at a USAID depot, stealing bags of beans.

In Zorange, where hundreds of government-constructed houses for quake victims remain empty, thieves walked around with hammers stealing doors and tin sheeting off houses.

But those were isolated incidents. Haitian officials, who responded quickly to calls for help through the night, warned Haitians to remain indoors, stay off bridges and not cross rivers.

Authorities in the Dominican Republic evacuated nearly 7,800 people from low-lying areas, and at least 10 rural settlements were cut off by flooding, according to Juan Manuel Mendez, director of rescue teams. Power was knocked out in parts of the capital, Santo Domingo.

There were no reports of injuries, but 49 homes across the country were destroyed.

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

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