ROSEAU, Dominica (AP) — Tropical Storm Isaac took aim at the Dominican Republic and Haiti early today, expected to gain strength after drenching tiny islands in its whirl over the eastern entrance to the Caribbean.
No major damage was reported, but authorities in Puerto Rico said an elderly woman died in an accident while preparing for the storm.
U.S. forecasters said Isaac was likely to approach Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, as a hurricane late today or early Friday after intensifying over the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. It was predicted to move on to Cuba as a tropical storm and perhaps eventually menace Florida as a hurricane later in the week.
In the eastern Caribbean, many seafront bars and restaurants remained open Wednesday night as lightning and thunder crackled and choppy surf slapped against piers and seawalls.
The storm was 255 miles (410 kilometers) south-southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, early today, with maximum sustained winds near 40 mph (65 kph). Isaac was moving west near 12 mph (19 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
At the bar of the Fort Young Hotel in Dominica’s coastal capital of Roseau, a few tourists and locals drank cold beer and chatted over the sound of white-crested waves outside.
“The skies were very black and cloudy most of the day, but it’s been pretty quiet so far. Some rain, very little wind,” bartender Raymond Reynolds said Wednesday at the 71-room hotel on the jagged, densely forested island. “We’ve been through this before.”
In the foothills of Dominica’s Morne Aux Diables volcano, Tess Hunneybell, owner of Manico River Eco Resort, said most of Wednesday was “weirdly quiet” after she and others wrapped the resort’s signature treehouses in tarpaulin and nailed shut louvre doors.
As a precaution, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit urged people to stay home from work. “I don’t want lives to be lost,” he said.
As the storm approached, military authorities at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, canceled several days of pretrial hearings in the case of five prisoners charged in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They also planned to evacuate about 200 people, including legal teams and relatives of Sept. 11 victims.
Isaac posed a potential threat to Florida during next week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, according to forecasters, though the storm’s track was uncertain.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, along the harbor in St. Croix’s historic town of Christiansted, piers normally lined with pleasure boats were empty Wednesday. Business owners stacked sandbags around the doorways of pastel-colored buildings.
Schools and government offices in St. Croix were ordered to remain closed today. St. Kitts had announced similar closures Wednesday.
With the storm expected to pass just south of Puerto Rico today, Gov. Luis Fortuno declared a state of emergency for the U.S. territory and activated the National Guard. He also canceled classes and closed government agencies. Federal officials closed the popular San Felipe del Morro castle in Old San Juan.
Authorities in Puerto Rico reported that a 75-year-old woman died Wednesday in the northern city of Bayamon when she fell from a second-floor balcony while filling a barrel with water in preparation for the storm.
The U.S. Coast Guard closed all ports in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to incoming commercial ships and warned that all commercial vessels bigger than 200 gross tons must leave or obtain permission to remain in port.