PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Hurricane Gustav dumped torrential rains across southern Haiti on Tuesday, killing at least one man and threatening crops amid protests over high food prices. Oil prices rose on fears the storm could batter oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
Trees toppled as the storm lingered for hours over Haiti's poor, deforested southern peninsula, and water levels were rising in banana, bean and vegetable fields. One man was killed in a landslide in the mountain town of Benet, civil protection director Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste told Radio Metropole.
"If the rain continues, we'll be flooded," U.N. food consultant Jean Gardy said from the southeastern town of Marigot.
Hundreds of people in coastal Les Cayes ignored government warnings to seek shelter, instead throwing rocks to protest the high cost of living in Haiti. Witnesses said U.N. peacekeepers used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Haiti is a tinderbox because of soaring food prices, which in April led to deadly protests and the ouster of the nation's prime minister. It was difficult to ascertain the extent of the damage from the Category 1 hurricane to the nation's crops on Tuesday because of Haiti's poor infrastructure and faulty communications.
After Haiti, Gustav was projected to sideswipe Cuba's southern coastline all week and grow into a perilous Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds before entering the central gulf on Sunday. Forecasters were reluctant to predict the storm's path beyond the weekend, the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had been expecting a direct hit, but later forecasts suggested the fiercest winds and rain will pass offshore. Base spokesman Bruce Lloyd said they were preparing for emergencies in any case.
A powerful storm in the gulf could force shutdowns on the offshore rigs that account for a quarter of U.S. crude production and much of its natural gas. Royal Dutch Shell PLC said it could begin evacuating workers as soon as Wednesday.
The price of light, sweet crude for October delivery ended Tuesday up US$1.16 to settle at US$116.27 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after the National Hurricane Center predicted Gustav could enter the gulf as a major hurricane this weekend.
If the storm continues on its path, it could drive up U.S. gasoline prices by 10 cents a gallon ahead of Labor Day weekend, predicted James Cordier, president of Tampa, Florida-based Liberty Trading Group and OptionSellers.com.
"Most indications are that Gustav will be an extremely dangerous hurricane in the northwestern Caribbean Sea in a few days," the Miami-based hurricane center said.
Gustav roared ashore on Haiti on Tuesday afternoon near the city of Jacmel with top sustained winds near 90 mph (145 kph). Heavy rains pelted the area as winds bent palm trees and kicked up surf along waterfronts of dilapidated wooden buildings.
Patrice Tallyrand, 43, fled with his family to a friend's home after Gustav knocked down four trees in their back yard in the southern town of Kabik.
"We had to leave the house before it got worse," he said.
Residents in the capital wrapped themselves in plastic sheeting against the rain and wind as they ran home in advance of the storm. Businesses closed early, and stranded travelers mobbed the American Airlines counter at the airport after the airline canceled all flights.
"I knew it was coming, but I was hoping to be out before it came," said Jody Stoltzfus, a 27-year-old missionary who had planned a visit home to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The Dominican Republic discontinued its hurricane warning late Tuesday as Gustav dumped rain on southern Haiti. The Cayman Islands issued a hurricane watch for the wealthy British dependency while the center of the system was about 60 miles (100 kilometers) west of Port-au-Prince.
More than 4,000 people were evacuated from their homes in the Dominican Republic, while in Jamaica, officials alerted shelters to prepare for possible evacuations Wednesday.