ropical Storm Gustav drifted away from Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Wednesday after killing 16 people, and forecasters warned it may still become a dangerous hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico oil fields.
Oil futures surged $3 a barrel because of Gustav's threat to U.S. energy facilities. The storm's most likely long-range track had it aiming at the U.S. Gulf coast anywhere from the Florida panhandle to Texas.
The Gulf area is home to a quarter of U.S. oil production and 15 percent of its natural gas production.
Torrential rains from the seventh storm of the Atlantic hurricane season triggered floods and mudslides that killed at least eight people in the Dominican Republic and eight in neighbouring Haiti, officials said.
The storm lingered for a day near Haiti, an ominous development for the impoverished nation of nearly 9 million people where hillsides have been stripped of trees and heavy rains frequently cause disastrous mudslides.
Among the dead in Haiti were at least three people killed in a mudslide, a woman who died trying to cross a river and another person hit by a falling tree, officials said.
In the Dominican Republic, seven people from the same family were buried under mud when a hillside collapsed just north of Santo Domingo.
Gustav swirled 110 miles (177 km) west of Haiti's teeming capital, Port-au-Prince, at 11 a.m. EDT (4 p.m. British time), after barging ashore the day before as a hurricane near the southern city of Jacmel, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Gustav was moving to the west-northwest at 5 mph (8 kph), on a path that would allow it to regain strength over deep warm waters south of Cuba and take it into the Gulf of Mexico as potentially the first major hurricane to threaten U.S. energy installations there since hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
Major hurricanes are those that rank from Category 3 upward on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity.
Katrina and Rita were both Category 5 storms in the Gulf when they cut off around a quarter of U.S. crude oil and gas production by damaging offshore platforms and severing pipelines. Katrina went on to devastate New Orleans and kill 1,500 people on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The hurricane center's official forecast took Gustav's top sustained winds up to 115 mph (185 kph), making it a strong Category 3 hurricane within four days.
Major oil companies began evacuating crews from Gulf platforms. Gustav could shut down 85 percent of U.S. production platforms in the Gulf, private forecaster Planalytics said, AP reported.