Tropical Depression Grace drenched earthquake-damaged Haiti on Monday, threatening to dump up to 38 centimetres of rain on a landscape where people are huddling in fields and searching for survivors. Tropical Storm Fred grew stronger before hitting Florida’s Gulf Coast, and a third tropical system was swirling around Bermuda.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Fred made landfall Monday afternoon near Cape San Blas in Florida’s Panhandle. The storm’s maximum sustained winds were 100 km/h as it moved north-northeast at 15 km/h. Fred is expected to bring heavy rains to a swath of southeastern U.S. as in continues to move inland this week.
Grace, meanwhile, was moving over Haiti’s Tiburon Peninsula with top winds of 55 kph, bearing down on the disaster area with what forecasters said could total 25 centimetres of steady rainfall, and still more in isolated areas. The hurricane centre warned that flash floods and mudslides were possible, especially along Hispaniola’s southern coasts.
The oncoming storm couldn’t come at a worse time for Haitians struggling to deal with the effects of Saturday’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake, blamed for an estimated 1,300 deaths.
Grace was centred 115 kilometres southeast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and moving west at 19 kph. It was expected to become a tropical storm again as it passes between Cuba and Jamaica Tuesday on the way to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the entire southern coast of Haiti, most of the southern coast of Cuba and the Cayman Islands.
Fred’s main threats are rainfall and storm surge, the hurricane centre said. Forecasters expected Fred to sustain 10 to 20 centimetres from Alabama across Florida’s Big Bend and Panhandle, and even 30 centimetres of rain in isolated spots, while the surge could push seawater of between 1 to 1.5 metres onto the coast between Florida’s Indian Pass and the Steinhatchee River.
Forecasters warned that Fred also could dump heavy rain across and into the mid-Atlantic states, with flash floods as some rivers overflow and even landslides in the Blue Ridge mountains.
Along Panama City Beach in Florida’s Panhandle, lifeguards have hoisted double-red flags, warning beachgoers against going into the Gulf of Mexico. The area braced for rain and some wind from the storm, and while no evacuations were ordered, schools and government offices were closed Monday.
Shawna Wood, who is still rebuilding the waterfront Driftwood Inn in Mexico Beach after it was destroyed by Hurricane Michael, said the area was getting a lot of rain but conditions weren’t terrible.
On the Alabama coast, the city of Orange Beach offered sand and bags to residents worried about flooding. A half-dozen school systems shut down Monday, and a large church opened as a shelter. Salt water was washing over roads and causing flooding in low-lying areas of Dauphin Island, a coastal barrier south of Mobile, Alabama, at midday Monday, Mayor Jeff Collier said.
“We’ve certainly been in a lot worse than this, but that’s no reason to be complacent,” said Florida’s Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford. “The less people out on the road, the better. We do expect some heavy rain from this storm.”
Meanwhile, the season’s eighth tropical depression formed late Sunday near Bermuda, and the hurricane centre predicted it would become a tropical storm sometime Monday as it circles around the island, about 225 kilometres offshore. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the island as the system’s top winds grew to around 55 kph.