Tropical Storm Erika leads to state of emergency in Florida

Governor Rick Scott says Caribbean storm ‘poses a severe threat’ to US peninsula

Tropical Storm Erika  in the Caribbean. Photograph: NOAA handout/Reuters

Tropical Storm Erika in the Caribbean. Photograph: NOAA handout/Reuters

 

A state of emergency has been declared in Florida as tropical storm Erika nears the US state.

The storm could hit the peninsula on Monday.

Governor Rick Scott made his declaration shortly after forecasters adjusted the trajectory of the storm to show that it is predicted to go through the middle of the state.

Mr Scott’s emergency order says Erika “poses a severe threat to the entire state”.

The order calls for the activation of the National Guard and gives authorities the ability to waive tolls and rules to allow emergency crews and vehicles to move throughout the state.

A hurricane has not hit Florida in 10 years. The latest forecasts show that Erika will remain a tropical storm when it makes landfall.

On Friday, Erika lashed Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with wind and rain and killed at least four people.

The storm was about 90km east-southeast of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, and was moving west at about 47km/h, with maximum sustained winds of about 80km/h.

Storm weakening

Due to some likely weakening over the Dominican Republic, Erika was no longer forecast to make US landfall as a hurricane.

It could still hit the Miami area with sustained winds of 97km/h on Monday, however, before sweeping northward up the Florida peninsula, affecting Orlando’s popular theme parks.

The greatest risk over the next few days is heavy rainfall over northern Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with up to 30cm expected in some areas.

This could cause “life-threatening flash floods and mud slides”, the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre said.

Emergency officials were searching for several missing people after rain-triggered landslides on the small, mountainous island of Dominica on Thursday, Dominica prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit said in a radio broadcast.

Overflowing rivers and landslides washed away several roads and bridges there.

Tourism minister Robert Tonge posted photographs and video on Facebook showing widespread flooding in the capital.

‘Hard to predict’

For days forecasters have described Erika, the fifth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, as unusually hard to predict due to disruption from wind patterns and its interaction over land, which weakens a storm, and warm water, which provides added energy.

The storm should weaken as it passes over the mountains of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, “and could degenerate to a tropical wave”, the hurricane centre said.

If Erika survives the mountains, it would probably regain intensity over warm seas in the Bahamas and the Straits of Florida, the centre added.

PA and Reuters