SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Tropical Storm Erika lashed Puerto Rico early Friday with heavy rains and wind after killing four people and causing devastating floods in the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, where several people remained missing.
The storm was expected to dump up to 12 inches (31 centimeters) of rain across portions of the drought-stricken northern Caribbean as it carved a path toward the U.S. Forecasters said Erika might fall apart over Hispaniola or Puerto Rico or possibly strengthen into a hurricane as it nears South Florida early next week.
Erika was located about 155 miles (250 kilometers) east-southeast of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and was moving west near 17 mph (28 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm’s maximum sustained winds were near 50 mph (85 kph).
Authorities in Puerto Rico closed certain roads in anticipation of numerous landslides, while rescue crews fanned across Dominica overnight to search for missing and injured people.
“Erika has really, really visited us with a vengeance,” Assistance Police Superintendent Claude Weekes said by phone. “There are many fallen rocks and trees, and water. It’s really chaotic.”
Some 20 people were missing in Dominica, where authorities said an elderly blind man and two children died when a mudslide hit their home in the island’s southeast region. Another man was found dead near his home in the capital of Roseau after a mudslide, but the cause of death could not be immediately determined.
Police in the lush and mountainous island of Dominica expected to reach isolated communities via the ocean because of impassable roads and bridges. The Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency also pledged assistance. Ronald Jackson, the agency’s executive director, said in a phone interview that at least two helicopters would arrive early Friday in Dominica carrying supplies and two medics from Trinidad.
“The only way into Dominica at this time is via helicopter,” he said.
Erika downed trees and power lines in Dominica as it unleashed heavy floods that swept cars down streets and ripped scaffolding off some buildings.
The storm approached Puerto Rico overnight Thursday, prompting Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla to activate the National Guard as a precaution. Officials noted the storm’s outer bands had already downed several trees and power lines across the U.S. territory and caused small landslides. Some 18,000 people were without power, with widespread power outages reported on the popular sister island of Culebra late Thursday.
Garcia said schools and government offices would remain closed on Friday as he warned people to stay indoors.
“We don’t want to report any deaths,” Garcia said. “Use utmost precaution.”
The storm is expected to move near or over the Dominican Republic on Friday as it heads toward the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect for areas across the Caribbean including Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy.
Meanwhile in the Pacific, Ignacio strengthened into a hurricane. The storm’s maximum sustained winds increased Thursday morning to 90 mph (150 kph).
Hurricane Ignacio was centered about 890 miles (1,430 kilometers) east-southeast of Hilo, Hawaii, and was moving west-northwest near 12 mph (19 kph).
Also in the Pacific, Jimena strengthened to a hurricane Friday morning with maximum sustained winds near 80 mph (130 kph). Jimena was centered about 1,045 miles (1,680 kilometers) southwest of the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.
Baptiste reported from Roseau, Dominica. Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report.
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