Tropical storm Gustav hits Caribbean, death toll rises

HaitiPort-au-Prince/Jamaica - The number of victims of tropical storm Gustav climbed Thursday, as the storm moved from Haiti and Cuba south to Jamaica.

In Haiti, the death toll rose to 59, the country's civil defence authorities said Thursday evening.

Then hurricane-strength Gustav hit the island near the city Jacqmel two days ago with wind speeds topping 150 kilometres per hour. Regions in the affected south-west were cut off from the rest of the country by mudslides and floods.

Eight people were killed in neighbouring Dominican Republic, authorities said.

Gustav moved slowly southwards to Jamaica, as meterological offices feared the storm could gather strength and turn into a hurricane again on its trip across the open sea, as it packed maximum winds of 110 kph.

Jamaica was tense as Gustav announced its coming with strong winds and rain, people stocked up on food and emergency survival kits and authorities opened emergency shelters.

Experts predicted Gustav to rage across Jamaica overnight before moving north-west towards the Cayman Island early Friday, passing Cuba's western tip and hitting the Gulf of Mexico on the weekend.

Gustav is expected to reach the US coast next week, raising fears of devastation on the same scale caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said President George W Bush was kept continuously updated about the storm's progress.

All residents in the region were urged to prepare for the storm by the US Department of Homeland Security, as the US state of Louisiana declared a state of emergency on Wednesday. (dpa)