SAINT-MARC, Haiti – Tropical Storm Hanna drenched flood-plagued Haiti on Wednesday, adding to the miseries of a country that has lost more than 100 lives to mudslides and flooding since mid-August.
The storm is still expected to change course, sweep across the Bahamas and then start climbing along the U.S. coastline by the weekend, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami — with some chance it could bring tropical storm force winds to New York City.
Haitian authorities on Wednesday reported two more deaths caused by Hanna, raising the toll to 23.
Floodwaters swamped a hospital in the Les Cayes area, forcing nurses to move patients to higher floors. At least 5,000 people in Les Cayes remained in shelters, said Jean-Renand Valiere, a coordinator for the civil protection department.
High water still prevented U.N. soldiers from reaching the western city of Gonaives, where the rise of muddy water drove people to seek refuge on rooftops Tuesday as wind gusts drove horizontal sheets of rain.
"They are screaming for help," said Iris Norsil, 20, who managed to escape the city.
A convoy carrying Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis had to abandon efforts to reach Gonaives when one of the cars was nearly swept away, said Julian Frantz, a Haitian police officer with the group.
"The situation is as bad as it can be," said Vadre Louis, a U.N. official in Gonaives. "The wind is ripping up trees. Houses are flooded with water. Cars can't drive on the street. You can't rescue anyone, wherever they may be."
By dawn Wednesday, Hanna was centered roughly 40 miles north of the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with maximum sustained winds of near 60 mph, the hurricane center said. Tropical storm force winds extended out as far as 230 miles in some areas.
It was drifting eastward at about 5 mph but it was expected to cut back to the northwest later Wednesday and move near the central Bahamas by Thursday, when it could regain hurricane force.
Rain and wind were picking up in the Bahamas, where officials told residents they would shut down the water system Wednesday night.
"Even though we're not feeling the full effects of the storm, it is rough out there," said Chrystal Glinton, a spokeswoman for the National Emergency Management Agency. "Persons have been warned to stay indoors. That's what they're doing. Waiting."
Haiti is particularly vulnerable to devastating floods because of its steep hillsides that have been deforested to plant crops or make charcoal.
Meanwhile, Ike became the fifth hurricane in the Atlantic this season. Ike has sustained winds near 80 mph and is about 670 miles east-northeast of the Leeward Islands. It is moving west-northwest near 18 mph.
It is too early to say whether Ike might threaten land. It is currently a Category One hurricane.
Just behind Ike was Tropical Storm Josephine, which gained a little strength with top winds near 60 mph. Forecasters expected Josephine to get stronger over the day.
And in the Pacific, Tropical Storm Karina formed south of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula, on a path leading out to sea. It weakened to a tropical depression Tuesday night and was expected to further weaken over the next few days.