Georges tears across Dominican Republic, enters Haiti
Florida could be on hurricane's pathSeptember 23, 1998
Web posted at: 1:37 a.m. EDT (0137 GMT)
(CNN) -- Hurricane Georges ripped across Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Tuesday, weakening slightly as it crossed the mountainous land but expected to gain strength as its center re-emerged over water.
The storm sped across the Dominican Republic and entered the impoverished nation of Haiti, where damages were expected to be severe due to substandard housing and minimal preparation for the hurricane.
Georges had already raked across Puerto Rico and could threaten the Florida Keys and south Florida later this week, forecasters said.
The storm was packing sustained winds of 120 mph (193 km/h) as it came ashore in the Dominican Republic on the east end of the island, but winds had decreased to about 80 mph (128 km/h) late Tuesday. Officials there said at least 12 people had died, bringing Georges' death toll to 21. At least four people were reported killed Monday when the storm blew through Puerto Rico. Three were dead in St. Kitts and two in Antigua.
The Dominican Republic was caught off guard by Georges, which had been expected to graze the northern coast of the country. Instead, the storm abruptly changed course and headed straight for the capital, Santo Domingo, on the southern coast.
"For the moment, the only thing left for us to do is to raise our prayers to the Almighty," said Dominican President Leonel Fernandez.
In neighboring Haiti, even poorer than the Dominican Republic, residents were hurriedly preparing for the worst.
"Whatever place it hits will be a disaster," said Yolene Vaval Surena, director of Haiti's Civil Protection Department, "because Haiti is very fragile."
Nearly 20 schools and churches were opened as shelters by Tuesday, she said, but none in the capital, Port-au-Prince, home to more than 2 million people. The government was expecting the worst.
"Haiti is still struggling to develop its infrastructure," said another government spokeswoman. "It is still overhauling the medical system to meet the needs of the people. It will be very difficult to handle a disaster."
U.S. concerned with Georges
In the United States, the Florida Keys were preparing for a possible strike by Georges, with residents stocking up on supplies as authorities ordered tourists off the islands.
In addition, the U.S. Navy was evacuating its personnel from Key West and an installation east of the island.
The National Weather Service in Miami said the area could come under a hurricane watch as early as Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. The storm itself, on its current trajectory, could come ashore in the United States by week's end.
U.S. President Bill Clinton declared Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, both U.S. territories, disaster areas on Tuesday, releasing federal recovery aid. Puerto Rico was struck hard by the storm, losing electrical power across the island and sending tens of thousands of people into shelters.
"After the storm is always the worst," 71-year-old Paula Aponte Figueroa said Tuesday. "You've got flooding, you've got mosquitoes, and I have nowhere to go."
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