• Storm dissipates after killing at least 20 in Caribbean

    By: By CARLISLE JNO BAPTISTE and DANICA COTO

    Updated:

    ROSEAU, Dominica - Tropical Storm Erika dissipated early Saturday, even as its remnants began drenching parts of eastern Cuba. But it left devastation in its path, killing at least 20 people and leaving nearly 50 missing on the small eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, authorities said.

    In Haiti, one person died in a mudslide just north of Port-au-Prince, and at least four others were killed in a traffic accident that apparently occurred in the rain.

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm had degenerated into a trough of low pressure by early Saturday after the mountains in Hispaniola knocked Erika below tropical storm force.

    Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said in a televised address late Friday that damage inflicted by the storm had set the island back 20 years. Some 15 inches (38 centimeters) of rain fell on the mountainous island.

    "The extent of the devastation is monumental. It is far worse than expected," he said, adding that hundreds of homes, bridges and roads were destroyed. "We have, in essence, to rebuild Dominica."

    Nearly 50 people have been reported missing in Dominica, and that number is expected to rise, opposition leader Lennox Linton said Saturday after leaving a meeting with the prime minister and other politicians. The island's airports remained closed, and some communities were still isolated by flooding and landslides.

    On Friday evening, Skerrit asked people to share their resources with each other as foreign aid trickled in.

    "This is a period of national tragedy," he said. "Floods swamped villages, destroyed homes and wiped out roads. Some communities are no longer recognizable."

    Before dissipating, Erika also knocked out power to more than 200,000 people in Puerto Rico and caused more than $16 million in damage to crops there, including plantains, bananas and coffee.

    In Haiti, authorities evacuated 254 prisoners in Gonaives to other locations because of flooding, and two people were hospitalized after their home in Port-au-Prince collapsed in heavy rains.

    Four people died and another 11 were hospitalized in Leogane, just west of the Haitian capital, when a truck carrying a liquor known locally as clairin crashed into a bus and exploded. Authorities said it apparently was raining when the accident occurred.

    When the storm still seemed a threat, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the entire state and officials urged residents to fill gas tanks and stockpile food and water.

    Erika was a particularly wet storm, and moved across a region that has been struggling with drought.

    The eastern Cuban city of Santiago was hit by about two hours of heavy rain as the storm was falling apart Saturday morning. Residents reported no flooding or other damage, saying they wished it would rain more to help alleviate a months-long drought that has hit eastern Cuba particularly hard. 

    "It's a little cloudy, there's some wind, but not very strong. But I wish it would keep raining to fill up the reservoirs, because we really need it," said Jorge Barrera, a 56-year-old mechanical engineer.

    Cuba's midday television news program showed images of nearly deserted streets in Santiago. It reported that 249 residents of the city had been temporarily moved to higher ground and another estimated 1,500 people with homes in low-lying areas were staying with relatives in safer areas. Santiago's airport was closed. 

    At 9:30 EDT Saturday, the remnants of Erika were located about 130 miles (205 kilometers) east of Camaguey, Cuba, and were moving west-northwest near 22 mph (35 kph) in a general motion expected to continue into the evening, the HurricaneCenter said. The storm's maximum sustained winds were then near 35 mph (55 kph).

    The Hurricane Center said Erika's remnants were expected to move near the coast of eastern and central Cuba on Saturday and into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Sunday. It cancelled future public advisories.

    Still, Erika's remnants were expected to produce rainfall of 3 to 6 inches (7.6 to 15.2 centimeters) with maximum amounts of 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) possible across parts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and eastern and central Cubathrough Sunday, the Hurricane Center said.

    It added that the rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides in the Caribbean and that starting on Sunday, rainfall of 3 to 5 inches (7.6 to 12.7 centimeters), with locally heavier amounts, is possible across southern and central Florida. Gusty winds could occur over southern Florida beginning Sunday.

    Meanwhile in the Pacific, Jimena turned into a powerful Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 150 mph (240 kph). The Hurricane Center said it was expected to remain a major hurricane through Monday, though it did not pose an immediate threat to land.

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