PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Tropical Storm Emily brushed past Puerto Rico and headed Wednesday toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where more than 630,000 people are still without shelter after last year’s earthquake.
A “steady shield of rain” should reach the island of Hispaniola shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti around noon Wednesday and the rainfall should worsen by late afternoon, said John Dlugoenski, senior meteorologist with Accuweather.com.
“The biggest threat to lives is probably the flooding,” Dlugoenski said.
Civil defense officials and the military in the Dominican Republic have already begun moving people out of high-risk zones ahead of the storm. Haitian authorities urged people to conserve food and safeguard their belongings.
In Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, Jislaine Jean-Julien, a 37-year-old street merchant displaced by the January 2010 earthquake, said she was praying the storm would pass her flimsy tent without knocking it over.
“For now, God is the only savior for me,” Jean-Julien said at the edge of a crowded encampment facing the quake-destroyed National Palace. “I would go some place else if I could but I have no place else to go.”
Haitian emergency authorities set aside a fleet of 22 large white buses in the event they needed to evacuate people from flooded areas. Emergency workers would then bus the people to dozens of schools, churches and other buildings that will serve as shelters.
“We’re working day and night to be able to respond quickly in case we have any disasters,” said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain could fall in some parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which could cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides in areas of mountainoust terrain.
Emergency workers, both Haitian and foreign, also sent out text messages to cell phone users, alerting them to the approaching storm and to take precautions such as staying with friends or relatives if that were an option.
Such advisories are not uncommon but few in Haiti have the means to heed them because of the crushing poverty.
“This is not the first time we’ve heard these messages,” said Alexis Boucher, a 29-year-old man who lives in Place Boyer, a public square that became a camp after the earthquake. “We receive these messages and yet we still don’t have anywhere to go.”
A slow-moving storm that triggered mudslides and floods in Haiti killed at least 28 people in June.
The United Nations peacekeeping force in Haiti notified its 11,500 troops to be on standby in case they need to respond, said Sylvie Van Den Wildenberg, a spokeswoman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies also, put emergency teams on standby, which have access to relief supplies already in place for up to 125,000 people in seaside towns throughout the country.
In the Dominican Republic’s southern tourist districts, workers at hotels and restaurants gathered up umbrellas, tables, chairs, and anything else that might be blown away.
Capt. Frank Castillo, dock master of the Marina Casa de Campo in the southeastern tourist city of La Romana, and his crew helped boat owners secure their vessels in slips or pull them ashore.
In Puerto Rico, there were no reports of major damage or injuries and no immediate demand for the nearly 400 schools that were converted into emergency shelters around the island.
Gov. Luis Fortuno had declared a state of emergency and most government offices were closed. Ahead of the storm, people cleared water and other emergency supplies from store shelves and tourists fled the small Puerto Rican islands of Culebra and Vieques.
But most of the island saw no more than sporadic gusts and showers.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm was heading west at 14 mph (22 kph) Wednesday morning, and it was expected to veer later toward the northwest. The storm was about 145 miles (230 kilometers) south-southeast of Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic. It had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph).
A tropical storm warning was in effect for Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the southeast Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.