Haiti, Dominican Republic hit with tropical storm rains as Elsa approaches

SANTO DOMINGO (REUTERS) – A slightly weakened Elsa was close to the southwestern peninsula of Haiti on Saturday (July 3), prompting tropical storm warnings for large swaths of Hispaniola, Cuba and Jamaica.

The US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said an aircraft measured maximum sustained winds at 110kmh.

This downgraded Elsa to a tropical storm from a hurricane, which is defined as having winds of at least 121kh.

Elsa’s centre was close to the southwestern peninsula of Haiti, according to the NHC. It was about 210km south-west Port Au Prince at 5pm EST.

Elsa was forecast to move near Jamaica and portions of eastern Cuba on Sunday, the NHC said.

By Monday, Elsa could move across central and western Cuba and head towards the Florida Straits.

At a collapsed condominium building in Surfside, Florida, emergency officials said the remainder of the unstable structure could be demolished Sunday ahead of Elsa’s possible arrival as early as Monday.

In the Dominican Republic, officials evacuated people living near rivers and creeks in coastal Barahona province as severe flooding was forecast.

The capital Santo Domingo was under an extreme flooding alert too. Emergency groups said they had 2,500 centres ready for evacuated people.

Haiti, which saw 31 deaths in Hurricane Laura in August, had not ordered evacuations.

A hurricane warning was in effect for the southern portion of Haiti from Port Au Prince to the southern border with the Dominican Republic.

Other areas of the region were under a tropical storm warning, including the coast of Haiti north of Port Au Prince; the southern coast of Dominican Republic from Punta Palenque to the border with Haiti; Cuba’s eastern provinces and Jamaica The NHC announced a tropical storm watch for the Florida Keys, from Craig Key westward to the Dry Tortugas.

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At a collapsed condominium building in Surfside, Florida, emergency officials said the remainder of the unstable structure could be demolished Sunday ahead of Elsa’s possible arrival as early as Monday.

Elsa’s forward speed was expected to decrease later on Saturday while maximum wind speeds would stay about the same until Sunday or Monday, when Elsa was expected to be near or over Cuba.

Millions of Cubans tried to prepare for heavy rainfall and flooding amid a surge in coronavirus infections, with cases reaching a record 3,500 on Friday.

“Imagine, our lives have been in danger for more than a year and a half because of the coronavirus and now the hurricanes are coming,” Esther Garcia, a homemaker in eastern Santiago de Cuba, said by phone.

Ranchers moved livestock to higher ground, farmers harvested what crops they could, city dwellers searched for food and residents downstream from reservoirs and rivers prepared to evacuate, according to local media reports.

The storm on Friday blew roofs off homes, toppled trees and sparked flooding in Barbados. It then pounded St Vincent with heavy rain and winds of 140kmh, which battered banana and plaintain crops.

Elsa’s storm surge was expected to raise water levels by as much as 61cm to 152cm above normal in some areas.

Across portions of southern Hispaniola and Jamaica, rainfall of 10cm to 20cm was expected Saturday into Sunday, the NHC said.

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