Three dead as Tropical Storm Elsa speeds through Caribbean
At least three people are dead after Tropical Storm Elsa battered the southern coasts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The storm was centred about 175 miles (280 kilometres) east-southeast of Montego Bay, Jamaica, and was swirling west-northwest at 17 mph (28 kph).
It had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph) as the tropical storm, which had been a Category 1 hurricane earlier on Saturday, weakened in its approach to Hispaniola and Cuba, according to the National Hurricane Centre in Miami.
The storm was forecast to hit Cuba next on a path that would take it to Florida, with some models showing it would spin into the Gulf or up the Atlantic Coast.
A tropical storm watch was in effect for the Florida Keys from Craig Key westward to Dry Tortugas.
Elsa prompted Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency in 15 Florida counties, including in Miami-Dade County where the high-rise condominium building collapsed last week.
One death was reported in St Lucia, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.
Meanwhile, a 15-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman died on Saturday in separate events in the Dominican Republic after walls collapsed on them, according to a statement from the Emergency Operations Centre.
The deaths come a day after Elsa caused widespread damage in several eastern Caribbean islands as a Category 1 hurricane, the first of the Atlantic season.
Among the hardest hit was Barbados, where more than 1,100 people reported damaged houses, including 62 homes that completely collapsed as the government promised to find and fund temporary housing to avoid clustering people in shelters amid the pandemic.
Dozens of trees and power lines lay strewn across Barbados, where several schools and government buildings were damaged and hundreds of customers were still without power on Saturday, according to officials.
Prime minister Mia Mottley said: “This is a hurricane that has hit us for the first time in 66 years. There is no doubt this is urgent.”
Barbados suspended classes until Wednesday and expected to reopen its international airport on Sunday.
Downed trees were also reported in Haiti, where authorities used social media to alert people about the storm and urged them to evacuate if they lived near water or mountain flanks.
The Civil Protection Agency (CPA) said: “The whole country is threatened. Make every effort to escape before it’s too late.”
Haiti is especially vulnerable to floods and landslides because of widespread erosion and deforestation.
In addition, a recent spike in gang violence has forced thousands of people to flee from their homes, so the CPA is running low on basic items including food and water, director Jerry Chandler told The Associated Press.
He said: “It’s been three weeks that we’ve been supporting families who are running away from gang violence.
“We are working at renewing our stocks, but the biggest problem is logistics.”
He said officials are still trying to figure out how to deliver supplies to Haiti’s southern region, which braced for Elsa’s impact.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for Jamaica and from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to the southern border with the Dominican Republic.
A hurricane watch was issued for the Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Granma, Guantanamo, Holguin, Las Tunas, and Santiago de Cuba.
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Some of those provinces have reported a high number of Covid-19 infections, raising concerns that the storm could force large groups of people to seek shelter together.
In the neighbouring Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, authorities opened more than 2,400 shelters as forecasters warned of heavy rains.
Meanwhile, officials on Saturday reported at least 43 homes and three police stations damaged in St Vincent and the Grenadines, which also suffered massive volcanic eruptions that began in April.
Prime minister Ralph Gonsalves said: “We expect that this number will increase as reports keep coming in. We have some damage, but it could have been far worse.”
Elsa was the first hurricane of the Atlantic season and the earliest fifth-named storm on record.
Elsa also broke the record as the tropic’s fastest-moving hurricane, clocking in at 31 mph on Saturday morning, according to Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.
It is forecast to drop four to eight inches (10 to 20 centimetres) of rain with maximum totals of 15 inches (38 centimetres) across portions of southern Hispaniola and Jamaica.
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