By JONATHAN M. KATZ
Associated Press Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Floodwaters surged across southern Haiti on Wednesday and forced hundreds of people from their homes in the wake of Hurricane Gustav, which killed at least three people before weakening to a tropical storm and creeping toward Cuba.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm could regain hurricane strength soon and forecasts suggested it could head toward the U.S. Gulf Coast as a dangerous Category 3 hurricane next week.
That could mean higher gasoline prices for drivers around the world. Global oil prices rose by US$1.40 early Wednesday to above US$117 a barrel on concerns the storm could disrupt output in the Gulf, home to a quarter of U.S. crude production.
Royal Dutch Shell PLC said it could begin evacuating workers as soon as Wednesday.
Gustav's maximum sustained winds were near 60 mph (95 kph) Wednesday morning, with higher gusts. The storm was centered about 90 miles (150 kilometers) west of Port-au-Prince and was moving toward the northwest at . It was expected to continue moving toward the west-northwest.
A hurricane warning was in effect for parts of Cuba, including the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, and base spokesman Bruce Lloyd said it was preparing for any emergencies.
As a hurricane, Gustav caused a deadly landslide and dumped torrential rains on southern Haiti, which is prone to devastating floods because its mountainous terrain has been stripped of trees for farming and charcoal.
At least three people have been confirmed dead, including a man killed in a landslide in the mountain town of Benet, civil protection director Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste said. Details about the other deaths were not immediately available.
Authorities said hundreds have been driven from their homes by flooding.
Flooding also was reported near the southern coast city of Jacmel, where Gustav roared ashore Tuesday afternoon with top sustained winds near 90 mph (145 kph). Rising waters surrounded palm trees that had been kicked over by the storm and reached the city's trademark Victorian-style wooden buildings.
Flooding was also reported in coastal Les Cayes, where demonstrators ignored government warnings to seek shelter and threw 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 has been hit hard by the global spike in food prices, sparking deadly riots in April. It was not yet possible to ascertain the extent of damage from the hurricane to the nation's crops on because of the country's poor infrastructure and communications.
Forecasters said Gustav could become a Category 2 hurricane with winds topping 96 mph (154 kph) Thursday as it moves between Cuba and Jamaica. The long-term forecast projected winds of 120 mph (190 kph) by the weekend.
Thunderstorms associated with Gustav were already bringing downpours to some parts of eastern Cuba, prompting officials in Holguin province to evacuate people from some low-lying areas.
The price of light, sweet crude for October delivery rose Tuesday to US$1.16, settling at US$116.27 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
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.
In Cuba, Fidel Castro issued an essay that mentioned the hurricane, saying Cuba's government "guarantees no one will be forgotten."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)