PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Hurricane Gustav weakened to a tropical storm Tuesday as it dumped torrential rains on southern Haiti, 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 the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. 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 hurricane to the nation’s crops on Tuesday because of Haiti’s poor infrastructure and faulty communications.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said late Tuesday that Gustav had weakened to a tropical storm with winds near 70 mph but is expected to regain hurricane strength today once it clears Haiti.