Tropical Storm Erika kills twenty in Dominica, drenches Haiti
Tropical Storm Erika churned across the Caribbean on Saturday, a day after sweeping over the tiny island nation of Dominica and leaving at least 20 people dead.
The storm’s passage came exactly 10 years after Hurricane Katrina battered parts the southern United States, devastating New Orleans in particular.
Erika unleashed torrential rains on Dominica — a small island country of about 72,000 people — on Friday, triggering floods and mudslides that wrought devastation.
“The visual damage I saw today, I fear, may have set our development process back by 20 years,” Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said after surveying the damage.
“Of greatest concern however, is the loss of life. So far we have confirmed that at least 20 citizens have died, and some are missing,” he said.
Highways sustained widespread damage and bridges were washed away, he said.
The U.S. state of Florida declared a state of emergency and Cuba issued an alert as well, as the storm rolled towards them.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Erika would likely weaken to a tropical depression as it passes over Cuba.
After pounding Dominica, Erika drenched Haiti where authorities set up emergency shelters across the country. Hygiene kits, mattress- es and food were stocked at some 2,000 temporary shelters, which are able to accommodate more than 47,000 people.
According to an initial tally, three people were injured in the Portau-Prince region when a house collapsed. Flooding was reported in two regions after heavy rains.
Many homes in Haiti are rickety at best and more than 60,000 people are still living in emergency housing around Port-au-Prince following the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people and crippled the nation’s infrastructure.
Haiti is located on the western half of the island of Hispaniola, which also includes the Dominican Republic.
Erika was expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 7.6 to 15.2 centimeters with maximum amounts of 25 centimeters possible across portions of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and eastern Cuba through Sunday, the hurricane center said.
“These rains could cause lifethreatening flash floods and mudslides,” the center said in a statement.
Dominican Republic authorities had issued a red alert as schools, beaches and ports were closed and civil protection organizations were ordered to be at the ready.
In Puerto Rico, Erika left nearly 150,000 people without power, but appeared not to have caused major damage.
The storm’s approach also set off a scramble as far north as Florida, where the governor declared a state of emergency.
“Tropical Storm Erika poses a severe threat to the entire state of Florida and requires that timely precautions are taken to protect the communities, critical infrastructure and general welfare of this state,” Governor Rick Scott said.
In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said U.S. President Barack Obama had been briefed about preparations for Erika’s possible landfall in the United States.
New Orleans will mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Saturday, with solemn memorials for the more than 1,800 victims as well as boisterous musical performances to commemorate the city’s resilience.