Tropical Storm Isaac strengthened as it swirled toward an expected landfall on Haiti’s southern peninsula Friday night, threatening the poor nation with punishing rains but unlikely to gain enough steam to strike as a hurricane.
Forecasters said the storm likely would stay below hurricane force until it reached the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, and they shifted its projected track back eastward and it remained a possible threat to Tampa, Fla., where the Republican National Convention starts Monday.
Government and international aid groups in Haiti’s capital were prepared to evacuate several thousand people from settlement camps that sprang up in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. But the main threat appeared aimed at Les Cayes, a city of about 45,000 people on the southwestern coast that is prone to flooding during heavy rain.
Isaac was expected to dump up to 8 to 12 inches of rain on the island of Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Haiti is heavily deforested, and just a few hours of steady rain can trigger deadly mudslides.
Isaac was centered about 90 miles south-southeast of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, Friday night, with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph. It was moving west at 10 mph.
Cuba declared a state of alert Friday for six eastern provinces, according to a Civil Defense announcement read on the afternoon news, and five central provinces were put on preliminary watch.