Tropical storm Elsa battered Jamaica and Cuba with winds and rain on July 4 after claiming at least three lives while cutting a path of destruction through the Caribbean, authorities said.
Flooding, mudslides and damaging gusts were expected as the storm – downgraded from hurricane status but still powerful – crept north toward the US.
As of 8pm on July 4 (0000 GMT July 5), Elsa was packing maximum sustained winds of 95km/h, the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.
By the evening of July 4, the NHC had reported that tropical storm warnings had been cancelled in Jamaica and in parts of Cuba.
But a warning remained in effect for other areas in Cuba and the Florida Keys, with Elsa forecast to hit the western part of the US state as early as July 6.
In Surfside, Florida, where a high-rise condo building collapsed on June 24, authorities said they planned to topple a remaining part of the building in a controlled implosion overnight on July 4 – avoiding the risk that Elsa might bring it down more destructively.
Tropical storm conditions were moving toward central Cuba, with forecasters predicting a storm surge of 0.9-1.5m along the country’s southern coast, plus rainfall of up to 38cm in isolated areas, that could lead to flash flooding and mudslides.
Civil Defence authorities began to evacuate some coastal communities ahead of the storm surge.
On the southern coast of the Dominican Republic, a 15-year-old boy was killed on July 3 near Bahoruco when a wall collapsed; and a 75-year-old woman in Bani met a similar fate, according to the country’s Emergency Operations Centre.
Around 50 homes there were facing damage on July 4.
“I can’t get into my house because of the water,” 50-year-old Mayra Tejeda, who lives in the Moscu neighborhood some 24km from the capital Santo Domingo with a child with special needs, told AFP.
“It’s all covered in water,” she said.
A third person died in Soufriere on the island state of Santa Lucia, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) said, without offering details.
Heavy winds led to widespread electricity and water outages, the CDEMA added.
It also said hundreds of homes in Barbados were damaged.
Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, reported no deaths or “serious damage” though some crops were battered, according to Jerry Chandler, who heads the country’s civil protection agency.
On July 2, Elsa – then packing winds of 120km/h – became the first hurricane of the Atlantic season before weakening to tropical-storm status on July 3.
According to the NHC, the storm could continue to weaken a bit as it moves over land in Cuba and then strengthen again over the Gulf of Mexico as it moves toward Florida.