Deadly Laura gaining strength, heading for Cuba, Marco nearing US

Miami, Aug 23 (efe-epa).- Tropical Storm Laura on Sunday hit the island of Hispaniola, which is shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, leaving at least 12 people dead, communities devastated and a large amount of material damage.

Laura made landfall on Saturday night/Sunday morning in the Dominican Republic, soon thereafter hitting Haiti, but it had moved on toward Cuba by midday and by mid-afternoon it was in the stretch of water between Haiti and Cuba, according to information provided by Dominican authorities.

The preliminary reports on damage caused by Laura say that at least three people died on Sunday in the Dominican Republic due to torrential rains brought by the storm, which forced the evacuation of about 1,000 people and damaged some 210 homes.

A 44-year-old woman and her 7-year-old son were killed in a Santo Domingo neighborhood when their home collapsed due to heavy rains about 3 am, EFE learned.

The third victim was a man who has not yet been identified, and he died when a tree fell on his home in La Guayiga, a town located 22 km (14 mi.) from Santo Domingo.

In all, electricity distribution figures indicate that 1.1 million homes and businesses are without electric power in the southern and eastern part of the Dominican Republic and many sectors do not have potable water given that a number of pipelines require electricity to pump water and are offline because of the storm.

President Luis Abinader, who took office on Aug. 16, on Sunday during his visit to the Los Rios sector, ordered the repair of homes affected by Laura and promised a comprehensive plan to relocate people living near rivers and other watercourses in various parts of the country.

The Dominican government also began distributing food rations to people affected by the storm.

In Haiti, meanwhile, at least nine people died on Sunday amid extremely heavy rains and landslides caused by Laura, according to a new preliminary count released by the country’s Civil Protection Directorate. Authorities also said that two people were missing.

Among the fatalities in Haiti is a 10-year-old girl, who died when a tree fell on her home in downtown Anse-a-Pitres, a town on the border with the Dominican Republic. Other victims include a woman who was swept away by rushing flood waters in Marbial, while two men and a woman lost their lives in different spots around Port-au-Prince and several others died in other parts of the country.

Haitian President Jovenel Moise on Sunday expressed his condolences to the families of the dead and called on the public to follow the instructions of the authorities to protect themselves during “this bad weather,” as per a message he posted on his official Twitter account.

He also visited the National Emergency Operations Center on Sunday afternoon with other government officials to determine what the needs of the public are in the zones hit by the storm.

Haiti is on still on red alert for the storm and emergency organizations are issuing calls to evacuate high-risk zones, while many roadways are completely blocked to traffic and several cities have been flooded, including a number of neighborhoods in the capital.

Estimates are that two million people could be affected by the heavy rains and flooding in Haiti, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Laura, meanwhile is strengthening as it heads toward Cuba, while Hurricane Marco is moving through the Gulf of Mexico toward the US Gulf Coast.

Laura’s path will next take it over eastern Cuba with sustained winds of 85 kilometers (53 miles) per hour, a little stronger than they were on Sunday morning, and it will probably move across the entire Antilles island chain, according to the storm’s projected path as calculated by the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.

At 2 pm, the eye of the system was located 90 km (56 mi.) south of the extreme eastern point of Cuba and 130 km (81 mi.) southeast of the city of Guantanamo.

With the tropical storm warning for the southern coast of the Dominican Republic now rescinded, Laura is beginning to affect the eastern Cuban provinces, the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands.

The NHC graphic shows that Laura will leave Cuba behind on Tuesday, moving into the Gulf of Mexico and continuing on its path toward the US Gulf Coast as a hurricane.

This would reportedly be the very first time since records have been kept (starting in 1900) that two hurricanes have been located in the Gulf of Mexico simultaneously.

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