By EVENS SANON – 3 hours ago
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Flooding from Tropical Storm Fay killed four people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and authorities warned Saturday that the storm could reach hurricane strength as it barreled toward Cuba.
Florida’s Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency and said Fay threatened the state with a “major disaster.” Forecasters said Fay could bring hurricane-force winds to the Florida Keys as soon as Monday.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said that on Saturday afternoon the storm was located about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Guantanamo, Cuba. It was heading west at about 16 mph (26 kph), and maximum sustained winds had decreased slightly to 40 mph (65 kph).
A man died Saturday in Haiti while trying to cross a river in Leogane, south of Port-au-Prince, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, head of Haiti’s civil protection department. No further information was immediately available.
Rice fields in the Artibonite Valley, Haiti’s most fertile region, were flooded, according to reports from Radio Ginen. And Fay’s heavy winds destroyed banana crops in Arcahaie, north of the capital, although it is unclear how many acres were affected, Jean-Baptiste said.
Haiti has struggled to cope with a food crisis that sparked deadly riots in April.
The capital’s airport reopened Saturday afternoon, but heavy rains were still expected in the south.
In neighboring Dominican Republic, a 34-year-old woman drowned when a family tried to cross a swollen river in a car, civil defense agency director Luis Luna Paulino said. The bodies of her missing 13-year-old niece and 5-year-old nephew were found Saturday afternoon, but her husband swam to safety.
A tropical storm warning was lifted Saturday afternoon for parts of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Cuba’s government said hurricane watches were in effect for the provinces of Villa Clara, Cinefuegos, Matanzas, Camaguey, Ciego de Avila and Sancti Spiritus. A hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area, generally within 36 hours.
Fay’s path will take it over the southern coast of eastern Cuba late Saturday or Sunday and over the island’s west near Havana on Sunday night Monday, according to forecasters.
Forecasters said Fay could hit the U.S. as a Category 1 or 2 hurricane, with winds perhaps reaching more than 100 mph (160 kph).
“The official track brings it off the west coast of Florida Tuesday and Wednesday, however, the track is always uncertain and the entire peninsula of Florida needs to pay attention to the storm,” said meteorologist Christopher Juckins.
Associated Press writer Ramon Almanzar contributed from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.