Tropical storm Isaac strikes Cuba


Tropical storm Isaac, back over warm ocean waters, lashed Cuba with winds and rain as it swept toward the Florida Keys, where it was expected to strike today as a minor hurricane.

The storm left six dead in Haiti, still recovering from a 2010 earthquake, and at least three missing in the Dominican Republic after battering their shared island of Hispaniola yesterday.

No deaths or injuries had been reported in Cuba, which got off lightly when the storm crossed its eastern flank instead of raking up the length of the island as originally predicted.

Though still 545km east-southeast of Key West, it was already causing problems in the US.

Energy producers in the Gulf of Mexico were shutting in production and the US Republican Party said it would recess its national convention in Tampa, Florida for a day out of safety concerns as the storm bore down on the state.

The storm could force a short-term shut-down of 43 percent of US offshore oil capacity and 38 per cent of its natural gas output, according to forecasters at Weather Insight.

Republicans, who will formally nominate former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate for the November election, will convene their four-day meeting tomorrow as scheduled, then recess until Tuesday.

Tampa, located on Florida's west coast, could feel the effects of Isaac, whose tropical storm force winds extend 322km from its centre.

In its latest advisory, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Isaac was 105km northeast of the Cuban city of Camaguey and cruising northwest at 28km/h.

Its top winds were near 96km/h, but the centre said it appeared to be gathering steam and was expected to be at or near hurricane strength when it reached Key West, 145km north of Cuba.

A storm becomes a hurricane when sustained winds reach a minimum of 119km/h.

After passing through the Keys, Isaac was expected to move into the northeastern gulf, add more punch and hit the Florida panhandle or further west as a Category 2 storm with 160km/h.

The Cuban Meteorological Institute warned the storm could do more damage to the

communist island because it was expected to run near and parallel to the northern coast all the way into the Florida Straits, which separate the US and Cuba.

Radar showed most of Isaac's powerful rainstorms were north of the island, but eastern Cuba, hit hard yesterday, was still getting downpours that dropped more than three inches (80 mm) of rain in three hours.

As the storm moved closer to Havana, wind gusts and driving rains intermittently hit the city. Baracoa, the island's easternmost city, appeared to get the worst of the storm, which sent 13-foot waves crashing over the seawall and into the streets.

Cuban TV reports said more than a thousand people had to be evacuated and 50 buildings were damaged.

"The force of the waves has destroyed the farmer's market for small businesses, also the children's area of a park and various homes," said Baracoa resident Olider Aguilera by telephone.