Tropical Depression Grace drenched earthquake-damaged Haiti on Monday, threatening to dump up to 15 inches (38 centimeters) of rain on a landscape where people are huddling in fields and searching for survivors. Tropical Storm Fred grew stronger as it closed in on Florida’s coast, and a third tropical system was swirling around Bermuda.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Fred’s maximum sustained winds increased to 65 mph (100 kph) as its center moved within 35 miles (60 km) of Apalachicola, Florida, moving toward the coastal city at 9 mph (15 kph). Landfall was expected Monday afternoon on a path that will bring heavy rains to a swath of southeastern U.S. this week.
Grace, meanwhile, was moving over Haiti’s Tiburon Peninsula with top winds of 35 mph (55 kph), bearing down on the disaster area with what forecasters said could total 10 inches (25 centimeters) of steady rainfall, and still more in isolated areas. The hurricane center 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 centered 70 miles (115 kilometers) southeast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and moving west at 12 mph (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 center said. Forecasters expected Fred to sustain 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) from Alabama across Florida’s Big Bend and Panhandle, and even a foot (30 centimeters) of rain in isolated spots, while the surge could push seawater of between 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters) 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 on 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 center predicted it would become a tropical storm sometime Monday as it circles around the island, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) offshore. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the island as the system’s top winds grew to around 35 mph (55 kph).