Huge Storms Swirl Around The World

15 August 2007 02:31
Hurricane Flossie was downgraded to a tropical storm hours after sending powerful waves, wind and rain toward Hawaii's southern coast late on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a new tropical depression formed in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Dean formed midway between Africa and the Caribbean, and Typhoon Sepat skirted the Philippines.

The hurricane watch for the big island of Hawaii was cancelled, but a flash-flood watch remained in effect, the National Weather Service in Honolulu said.

Flossie gradually weakened on its westward path that skirted the Pacific archipelago, falling to a category-two storm with winds of 160km/h before being downgraded to a tropical storm, the National Weather Service said.

Known as "the Big Island", Hawaii is the largest in the United States Pacific Hawaiian island chain, which has not been hit by a hurricane in 15 years.

Officials took no risks with Flossie. They declared a state of emergency for the Big Island on Monday, closed schools and parks, set up shelters and told the island's 160 000 people to stay clear of the coast through Wednesday.

Surf was as high as 6m, likely to produce localised flooding and shoreline erosion, the weather service said. It said there were sustained winds of 64km/h, with gusts to about 80km/h. South-facing areas of the island were expected to be hit hardest, with 13cm to 25cm of rain also expected.

The other Hawaiian islands and the biggest city, Honolulu, were likely to see some surf and rain, but no major weather hazards.

The Pacific storm had been a more powerful category four on forecasters' five-step scale of hurricane intensity, but slowed to a category-two storm as it hit cooler Pacific waters. A category-two storm is capable of inflicting moderate damage if it hits land.

The challenging weather hit Hawaii less than 24 hours after a 5,4-magnitude earthquake shook the volcanic island on Monday. No injuries or damage were reported.

Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle proclaimed a state of emergency on Monday for the island of Hawaii and an advance team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency was already in Honolulu.

The last time a hurricane hit Hawaii was in 1992, when Iniki caused six storm-related deaths and an estimated $2,4-billion in damage, mostly on the island of Kauai.

New depression
The fifth tropical depression of the Atlantic hurricane season formed on Tuesday and forecasters at the US National Hurricane Centre expected it to become a tropical storm before making landfall near the Texas-Mexico border.

Tropical-storm watches were issued for the Texas coast from Freeport, Texas, southward, the hurricane centre said. That means tropical storm conditions could occur within 36 hours.

The Mexican government also issued a tropical-storm watch for the north-east coast of Mexico from Rio San Fernando northward, according to the statement issued by the hurricane center.

Energy markets watched the storm system closely because it could disrupt US oil and natural gas production and refining in the Gulf coast region.

The depression had sustained winds of 45km/h and was located about 685km east-southeast of Brownsville, Texas, and about 680km east of La Pesca, Mexico. It was moving to the northwest at 16km/h, according to the centre.

Tropical storm
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Dean formed in the Atlantic Ocean midway between Africa and the Caribbean on Tuesday and could become the first Atlantic hurricane of the 2007 season later in the week, US forecasters said. It was days away from any contact with land.

But the US National Hurricane Centre's forecast track had it reaching the Lesser Antilles -- the islands of the eastern Caribbean -- late this week. The Lesser Antilles stretch from Trinidad in the south to the British and US Virgin Islands in the north.

At 9pm GMT on Tuesday, the centre of Dean was located about 2 237km east of the Lesser Antilles and was charging west at about 34km/h, the hurricane centre said. Dean's top sustained winds were about 64km/h. It was expected to gradually strengthen and become a hurricane with winds of at least 119km/h by Friday.

The storm could be a category-three hurricane with winds of up to 204km/h in five days, forecasters said. The latest long-range computer models had the storm near the Lesser Antilles just north of Barbados on Friday and then heading into the Caribbean Sea well south of Puerto Rico.

Some earlier models had taken Dean farther north, closer to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, or even curving north into the open Atlantic. Long-range predictions are notoriously uncertain.

Heavy rain soaked Manila and the northern Philippines on Wednesday as Typhoon Sepat skirted north-east of the archipelago, triggering evacuations and flood warnings. In the capital, schools and government offices were ordered to shut and cars were brought to a near-standstill as the rain flooded streets, forcing residents to wade to work.

US film director Quentin Tarantino, in Manila for a film festival, abandoned his limousine for a pedicab cruise through the flood waters after being stuck in traffic for more than two hours. Tarantino, famed for his violent films such as Reservoir Dogs, told reporters the trip aboard the cycle rickshaw to the presidential palace for an awards ceremony was safe and fun. "I've done more serious things than that," he said.

The weather bureau said Sepat was not expected to make landfall in the Philippines, as it was moving westward towards Taiwan and China. The storm brought winds of 160km/h and gusts of up to 195km/h, the bureau said.

Officials said there were no reports of casualties or serious damage, but more than 200 people were evacuated in Manila. Warnings were issued about possible large waves and storm surges along coastal areas and residents of low-lying areas and people living near mountain slopes were also advised about possible flash floods and landslides.

Sepat is expected to slam into Taiwan on Thursday as a category-four typhoon, one level below the maximum strength super typhoon, according to British-based website Tropical Storm Risk.

Tropical storms in the region gather intensity from the warm ocean waters and frequently develop into typhoons that hit Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and southern China during a season that lasts from early summer to late autumn. -- AFP, Reuters
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