Santo Domigo: Tropical Storm Erika began to lose steam over Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but it left behind a trail of destruction that killed at least 20 people on the small eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, authorities said.
Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said in a televised address late yesterday that the island has been set back 20 years in the damage inflicted by the storm.
"This is a period of national tragedy," he said, adding that hundreds of homes, bridges and roads have been destroyed. "We have, in essence, to rebuild Dominica."
Tropical Storm Erika dumped 15 inches (38 centimetres) of rain on the mountainous island before it cut yesterday into Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where it topped trees and power lines.
The US National Hurricane Centre 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 today and possibly cause it to dissipate entirely. There's 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 centre.
"This is a potentially heavy rain event for a large part of the state," he said.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the entire state, which could begin seeing the effects of the system late tomorrow and early Monday and 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 that are now blamed for at least a dozen deaths, the government said. At least two dozen people remained missing and authorities warned the death toll could rise.
"There are additional bodies recovered but it is an ongoing operation," Police Chief Daniel Carbon said, declining to provide specifics. "It will take us a couple of days to recover as many bodies as we can. So the count will increase." Erika is a particularly wet storm, and was expected to dump up to 8 inches (20 centimetres) of rain across the drought-stricken region.