|In the Dominican Republic, a maximum red alert has been sounded across six provinces [EPA]
Lashing rain and wind from the edge of Tropical Storm Emily have hit Haiti, triggering panic among scores of people living in squalid makeshift camps.
US weather experts warned of "torrential rain" and "life-threatening flash floods and mud slides" once the brunt of Emily reaches Haiti early on Thursday.
The storm will heap more misery upon the impoverished Caribbean nation that was devastated by a major earthquake in 2010.
About 300,000 Haitians still living in makeshift camps almost 19 months after the quake, may have to battle up to 50cm of rain cascading down muddy, denuded hillsides.
Haitian officials have raised a red alert and called for the evacuation of at-risk tent cities - many of which are perched on hillsides stripped bare of any trees.
Authorities "are asking people in refugee camps... to evacuate vulnerable locations," said Haiti's civil defence chief, Alta Jean-Baptiste.
Ronald Semelfort, Haiti's weather service chief, said Emily would be "a great danger for the country still fragile from the January 2010 earthquake".
The earthquake killed an estimated 225,000 people and a severe cholera outbreak that followed claimed 5,506 lives and infected 363,117.
A team of Cuban doctors in Haiti were on standby on Wednesday to prevent any further outbreaks of the water-borne illness.
Moving slowly westward
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in its 0300GMT advisory on Thursday that Emily was "still moving slowly westward ... expected to bring heavy rainfall to Hispaniola [late on Wednesday] and Thursday," referring to the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, its wealthier neighbour to the east.
The centre of Emily was about 125km southeast of Isla Beata, in the far southern tip of Hispaniola, the NHC said.
The storm was packing winds of 85kmph, with higher gusts. It was moving at a snail's pace of 7kmph, but was expected to accelerate in the coming hours.
On the current forecast track, Emily "will move across the southwestern peninsula of Haiti early on Thursday and move over extreme eastern Cuba Thursday night", the NHC said.
Emily is forecast to dump between 15cm and 30cm of rain with isolated amounts of up to 50cm possible over
Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Coastal areas were warned of a storm surge which will raise water levels by up to a metre and be "accompanied by large and dangerous waves".
Shipping was banned along Haiti's southern coast as Emily approached, and Semelfort said the entire country would be affected by the storm.
In the Dominican Republic, a maximum red alert has been sounded across six provinces, and all water and outdoor leisure activities suspended.
Mandatory evacuations were declared in a dozen villages near dams, and Dominican officials warned residents in other areas to take precautions.
The tropical storm warning was also in effect for eastern Cuba, the central Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos islands.