Tropical Storm Olga Forces Evacuations

Wednesday, December 12th 2007, 7:38 am
By: News On 6

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) _ Tropical Storm Olga began to weaken slightly as it left the Dominican Republic and headed into Haiti on Wednesday, but heavy rains forced the evacuation of low-lying areas.

The rare December cyclone had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph and forecasters warned it could trigger dangerous floods by dumping as much as 10 inches of rain on Hispaniola, the island shared by the two countries.

Olga struck nearly two weeks after the official end of the Atlantic hurricane season. It is only the 10th named storm to develop in the month of December since record keeping began in 1851, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

``It's not completely unusual to have a storm form in December,'' said Daniel Brown, a hurricane specialist at the center, who noted that three named storms have formed after Nov. 30 since 2003.

At 4 a.m. EST, Olga was centered about 45 miles north-northwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, and headed toward the country's northern coast, the hurricane center said.

The storm passed through the southwestern areas of the Dominican Republic that were hardest hit by Tropical Storm Noel six weeks ago. At least 87 fatalities in the country were blamed on Noel, the deadliest storm of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season.

Authorities evacuated 22 communities in eastern provinces to prepare for the storm.

``Every civil defense agency has been activated,'' emergency services spokesman Luis Luna Paulino said.

In neighboring Haiti, the government earlier had warned people in coastal areas to prepare for evacuations and urged fishermen to remain in port, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, head of the country's civil protection department.

Olga was moving westward at about 18 mph. Forecasters predicted it would gradually weaken into a tropical depression as its center crosses Haiti and continues across the Caribbean between Cuba and Jamaica.

The storm passed Puerto Rico on Tuesday night, knocking out electrical service to 79,000 people and water to 144,000.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for the northern coast of Hispaniola, the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, meaning tropical storm conditions are expected there within 24 hours. Tropical storm conditions were also possible over parts of eastern Cuba.

Olga will be included in the tally for the 2007 hurricane season, bringing the number of named storms to 15, including six hurricanes. The next season begins June 1.