Tropical Storm Noel lashed Haiti with heavy rains early Monday as it slowly neared the impoverished Caribbean nation, generating fears of flash flooding on deforested hills often blanketed by rows of flimsy shacks.
Noel, the 14th named storm of the Atlantic season, was expected to reach Haiti and the Dominican Republic - which share the island of Hispaniola - in the morning, before heading on toward Cuba.
The strengthening Caribbean storm poses a serious threat to Haiti, which is still recovering from floods that killed at least 37 and sent more than 4,000 people to shelters earlier this month.
Noel had sustained winds of about 60 mph (96 kph) and its outer bands were dumping rain over Hispaniola, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
At 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT), Noel's center was roughly 90 miles (145 kilometers) south of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, forecasters said.
The meandering storm was spinning north-northwest at roughly 5 mph (8 kph), on a projected track that would bring its center near the southeastern peninsula of Haiti. A tropical storm warning was issued for the entire Haitian coastline and parts of neighboring Dominican Republic's southern coast.
Forecasters said Noel, with tropical storm force winds fanning 115 miles (185 kilometers) from its center, could drop 12 inches (30 centimeters) of water on Hispaniola, southeastern Cuba and Jamaica.
Dominican authorities said at least 600 people had been evacuated as the storm touched off landslide, flooded rivers and pushed storm surges onto Santo Domingo's seaside boulevard.
Swollen rivers also forced evacuations in Cabaret, a town north of Port-au-Prince where floods killed at least 23 people earlier this month, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti's civil protection agency.
"We are working hard to make sure everything goes well and that every citizen knows a cyclone is coming," Jean-Baptiste said. It could take days for Haitian authorities to learn of flooding in some parts of the country, where communications are limited.
A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch were issued for southeastern parts of Cuba, including the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay where the U.S. military holds some 330 detainees on suspicion of links to terrorism.
"I don't envision the storm will have any tangible impacts on detention operations as the modern facilities have been constructed to withstand high winds and significant rainfall," said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman.
Flood concerns on Saturday forced three U.S. senators to cut short a trip to Haiti, where they'd planned to survey damage caused by earlier storms.
"It was just raining like mad," Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa told The Associated Press before flying out of Port-au-Prince Saturday evening. Senators Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Tennessee's Bob Corker were also visiting.
Widespread deforestation and poor drainage mean that even moderate rains can cause devastation in Haiti, where thousands of people build ramshackle homes in flood plains.
In 2004 the Caribbean nation was hit by Tropical Storm Jeanne, which triggered flooding and mudslides that killed more than 2,000 people and destroyed thousands of acres (hectares) of fertile land. That storm later strengthened into a hurricane.
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