Hurricane Tomas take two lives in St Lucia

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St. Lucia Prime Minister Stephenson King told a local radio station that an unidentified American tourist drowned Saturday at Cas En Bas beach in the island's north and a 31-year-old St. Lucian woman also died in a road accident during the passage of Hurricane Tomas over the weekend.

High winds ripped the roofs off a hospital, a school and a stadium and toppled a large concrete cross from the roof of a century-old church, St Lucian government officials said. A landslide blocked a main highway linking the capital to the island's south.

The island was deluged by 21 hours of sustained rain starting Saturday morning. On Sunday, dead animals floated in swollen rivers and people in the capital of Castries took to streets to clear fallen branches, broken glass and other debris.

Authorities in neighbouring St. Vincent and the Grenadines also said two workers were hospitalised after they were blown off a roof by high winds.

St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said fierce winds tore roofs from scores of homes and more than 1,000 people sought emergency shelter as the islands plunged into darkness. Widespread flooding triggered landslides that cut off as many as 30 roads, marooning hundreds of residents.

"I have been told that over 300 houses have suffered some level of damage," Gonsalves said Sunday. "There is also serious damage to fruit trees, bananas and other infrastructure, and this is going to cost the state millions."

Meanwhile Hurricane Tomas weakened yesterday after ripping through the eastern Caribbean. Forecasters said the storm could regain force and veer toward earthquake-stunned Haiti, where some 1.3 million people living under tarps and in tents are vulnerable to heavy rains and wind.

With maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph), Tomas was barely a hurricane. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami predicted more weakening during the next 24 hours before it begins to strengthen again around midweek.

Daniel Brown, a center forecaster, said Tomas is "likely to strengthen when it's over the central Caribbean," and Haiti could be hit by rains from outer bands in another couple of days.

Late yesterday afternoon, Tomas' center was steaming west near 12 mph (19 kph). It was expected to continue on that track for the next two days, then gradually turn toward the north.

Brown said it's too early to say how strong Tomas could be later in the week or if Haiti might suffer a direct hit, but "there's certainly going to be the threat of heavy rainfall" in the impoverished nation, where widespread deforestation and ramshackle homes mean even moderate rains can cause devastation.

Aid workers in Haiti fear the worst. Hundreds of thousands of people there have only rudimentary shelter nearly 10 months after the Jan. 12 earthquake, and a cholera epidemic has killed more than 330 and hospitalised nearly 5,000.

At least 20,000 people were without power on Martinique, and streets flooded and tree branches were down. A cruise ship carrying nearly 2,000 tourists docked instead in Dominica.

Tomas also toppled power lines and damaged houses in Barbados as a tropical storm.

In Haiti, food and fuel were being stockpiled in southern areas expected to be most directly affected by Tomas, and emergency shelter materials were being distributed to the camps in Port-au-Prince.

Tomas is the 12th hurricane of the season in the Atlantic.