Tropical storm Erika began to lose steam on Friday after causing a trail of destruction that included at least 20 people deaths and another 31 missing on the small eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, authorities said.
The Dominica prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, said in a televised address late on Friday that the island has been set back 20 years in the damage inflicted by the storm. “The extent of the devastation is monumental. It is far worse than expected,” he said, adding that hundreds of homes, bridges and roads have been destroyed. “We have, in essence, to rebuild Dominica.”
Erika dumped 15 inches (380mm) of rain on the mountainous island before it cut on Friday into Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where it toppled trees and power lines.
The US National Hurricane Center in Miami said the system was expected to move north across the island of Hispaniola, where the high mountains would weaken it to a tropical depression on Saturday and possibly cause it to dissipate entirely.
There was a chance it could regain some strength off northern Cuba and people in Florida should still keep an eye on it and brace for heavy rain, said John Cagialosi, a hurricane specialist at the center. “This is a potentially heavy rain event for a large part of the state,” he said.
Florida Governo Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the entire state, which could begin seeing the effects of the system late Sunday and early Monday. Officials urged residents to prepare by filling vehicle gas tanks, stockpiling food and water, and determining whether they live in an evacuation zone.
Erika’s heavy rains set off floods and mudslides in Dominica, where at least 31 people were reported missing, according to officials with the Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency.
Photograph: Alvin Baez/Reuters