South Florida Keeps Eye On Noel

Residents of the Dominican village of Lucas Diaz, 27 miles from Santo Domingo, try to salvage what belongings they can on October 29th, 2007, as the village is flooded by the heavy rains brought by tropical storm Noel. Ricardo Hernandez/AFP/Getty

Residents of southeastern Florida were advised early Wednesday to keep an eye on the progress of Tropical Storm Noel, a killer storm which could pass close to the state over the next few days.

At 5 a.m. EDT, Noel's top sustained winds were near 40 mph, down from 60 mph a day earlier, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm has crashed through the Caribbean, creating floods and mudslides that have killed at least 22 people.

It was moving "erratically" toward the north-northwestward near 7 mph and approaching the northern coast of Cuba, the center said. But it was expected to turn away from Florida later in the week and speed into the open Atlantic.

Tropical storm-strength winds extended up to 175 miles from the storm's center. Above-normal tides and heavy rains were expected in its path into the Atlantic.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for several Cuban provinces and a tropical storm warning was issued for the central and northwestern Bahamas.

A tropical storm watch may be issued for southeast portions of Florida if Noel shifts west or its wind field expands. A watch means tropical storm conditions are possible within 36 hours.

The National Weather Service warned gale-force winds, rough surf and flooding were possible through Wednesday for much of southeast Florida's Atlantic coastline. Swimmers are advised to stay out of the ocean because of the risk of rip currents and waves higher than 10 feet in wind gusts between 25 mph and 40 mph.

The storm cut a destructive path across the island of Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Because of difficulties reaching remote areas of Hispaniola, there was uncertainty over death toll figures, with emergency officials reporting between 22 and 36 people dead.

Tuesday evening, a Dominican Republic emergency commission spokesman revised the death toll in the country to at least 30. The official, Luis Luna Paulino, did not release specifics of the deaths, and earlier in the day he acknowledged miscalculating a previous toll.

Almost 12,000 people were driven from their homes and nearly 3,000 homes were destroyed, while collapsed bridges and swollen rivers have isolated 36 towns, Luna said.

In neighboring Haiti, at least six people died, including two women washed away by a river in the town of Gantier, said U.N. peacekeeping mission spokesman Mamadou Bah. Red Cross volunteers said a 3-year-old boy drowned as his family tried to rescue him from a raging river in the neighborhood of Duvivier.

In Cuba, the government said about 1,000 homes had suffered damage, 2,000 people had been evacuated from low-lying areas, and schools were closed for several thousand students.

Bahamian authorities closed most government offices, and lines formed at grocery stores and gas stations in Nassau, the capital.

In Florida, Broward County had the highest risk for beach erosion from the pounding surf, especially during high tide, according to the weather service.

At 5 a.m., Noel's center was 50 miles northwest of Camaguey, Cuba, and about 205 miles south-southwest of Nassau, Bahamas. Some strengthening could occur as it moves away from Cuba.

Forecasters said up to 15 inches of rain were possible over the Bahamas and Cuba, and 10 to 20 inches of rain could fall over Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
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