Tropical Storm Alpha prompts warnings in Haiti, Dominican Republic

Authorities warned of deadly flash floods and mudslides Saturday as Tropical Storm Alpha headed toward Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where days of heavy rain have already swollen rivers and saturated the soil.

The two nations that share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola were under a tropical storm warning with Alpha _ the record-setting 22nd named storm of the Atlantic season _ expected to reach the southern Domincan city of Bani by dawn.

Meteorologist Ignacio Feliz of the Dominican weather service said authorities expected heavy rain but had not yet ordered evacuations.

Feliz said that emergency authorities were especially concerned because of the heavy rains _ in part due to Hurricane Wilma _ that have drenched the island in recent days. In Haiti, 12 people died as a result of the rains and flooding caused by Wilma.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami warned that the Alpha could bring up to 4-8 inches (10-20 centimeters) of rain across the island _ and as much as 12 inches (30.48 centimeters) in some places _ and that it "could produce life-threatening flash floods and mud slides."

Both nations are vulnerable to flooding and mudslides, but the danger is particularly high in Haiti because of extensive deforestation and the large number of people who live in flimsy homes.

"This is a highly threatening situation," said Abel Nazaire of Haiti's Risk and Disaster Management agency.

The storm formed Saturday in the Caribbean, and marked the first time forecasters had to turn to the Greek alphabet for names.

The previous record of 21 named storms had stood since 1933. Alpha was the 22nd to reach tropical storm strength this year, and the season doesn't end until Nov. 30.

At 8 p.m. EDT (midnight GMT), Alpha had sustained winds of about 40 mph (55 kph)_ 1 mph over the threshold for a tropical storm. It was centered about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, and moving northwest at about 15 mph (25 kph), the U.S. Hurricane Center said.

A tropical storm warning was posted for the southeastern Bahamas and for the Turks and Caicos islands.

Nazaire said authorities were on alert throughout Haiti, and that radios were broadcasting safety instructions to the population.

Haiti's national weather forecast center said the most likely scenario would be for the storm to cross the Dominican Republic with Haiti only being affected by heavy rains, said forecaster Marcelin Esterlin.

A second possibility would be that the storm deviates to the west and hits Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, Esterlin said, AP reported. V.A.

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