State of emergency in Florida as Tropical Storm Erika nears

28 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

All of Florida watching Tropical Storm Erika, could hit Monday; state of emergency declared.

Tropical Storm Erika lashed Puerto Rico on Friday with heavy rains and wind after killing at least four people and causing devastating floods and landslides in the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, where several people remained missing. MIAMI — The decision to prepare for a hurricane in this southern city usually comes down to whether the person lived through the horror of Hurricane Andrew. Forecasters no longer expected it would strike Florida as a hurricane but still considered it likely that it would reach the state as a tropical storm starting late Sunday, said Chris Landsea, a meteorologist with the US National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was also considered possible that the storm would dissipate as it passes over the mountains of Hispaniola, the island that includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti. “It is unlikely at this point to become a hurricane,” Landsea said. “The main threat will be rainfall. Rick Scott said the storm constitutes a “severe threat.” It is forecast to hit Florida on Monday, but it’s not clear how strong the storm will be. “We’ve got concerns all across the state now because it’s going to be coming clear across the state,” Scott told reporters.

It’s just another storm where everybody freaks out, another excuse to skip work or school or to party.” Despite the widespread apathy, Florida officials aren’t taking any chances. Thomas “and they continue to support response activities to ensure that there are no unmet needs on those islands,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. He predicted it would be another 24 hours at least before an official count would be released. “There are additional bodies recovered but it is an ongoing operation,” Carbon said. “It will take us a couple of days to recover as many bodies as we can. So the count will increase.” Erika is a particularly wet storm, and was expected to dump up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain across the drought-stricken northern Caribbean as it headed toward the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas and the U.S. Scott encouraged families to make sure they have a disaster plan — particularly those who have moved to Florida since the last time it was struck by a hurricane a decade ago.

Rick Scott issued a state of emergency for every county in the state Friday morning, and Miami-Dade County officials planned to contact the roughly 2,000 people on its special needs registry to see if they need assistance. It 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. The Coast Guard station in Miami is moving its larger response boats out of the storm’s path and is planning to send aircraft over the waters south of Florida to alert boaters to the oncoming threat. Scott made his declaration shortly after forecasters adjusted the trajectory of the storm to show that it’s predicted to strike the southern tip of the state and then traverse northward.

Meanwhile, rescue crews in Dominica continued to search for missing and injured people after the storm dropped 15in of rain as it passed over the island. Thousands across the island remained without power. “Erika has really, really visited us with a vengeance,” Assistance Police Superintendent Claude Weekes told The Associated Press. “There are many fallen rocks and trees, and water. For example, the Tampa area is already soaked from a bout of historic rain in late July and early August, the Tampa Bay Times reports, and a significant strike from Erika would almost certainly cause flooding. Dominica prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit urged people throughout the country to help clear streets strewn with mud and toppled trees following the storm’s passage. That’s a very real threat even if the storm doesn’t come ashore.” Miami-Dade County Emergency Management Coordinator Curt Sommerhoff said even his own team suffers from a lack of hurricane experience.

He estimated that half his staff was not around during the tumultuous 2004 and 2005 seasons, when Florida was hit by hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, Dennis, Katrina and Wilma. Geovanny Batista cleared garbage from a ditch next to his house in an impoverished community in the capital while his wife bought food for the family.

People on the island told of narrowly escaping being engulfed by water as Erika downed trees and power lines as it unleashed heavy floods that swept cars down streets and ripped scaffolding off some buildings. “I was preparing to go to work when all of a sudden I heard this loud noise and saw the place flooded with water,” said Shanie James, a 30-year-old mother who works at a bakery. “We had to run for survival.” Mudslides also destroyed dozens of homes across Dominica, including that of 46-year-old security guard Peter Julian, who had joined friends after leaving work. “When I returned, I saw that my house that I have lived in for over 20 years was gone,” he said. “I am blessed to be alive. With the entire country under threat, the Civil Protection Office has been posting updates on Twitter and airing radio spots concerning the possible dangers and storm’s track. Photos and videos on social media showed floodwaters inundating streets and causing buildings to collapse on Dominica as up to 15 inches of rain fell there between late Wednesday and early Thursday, the Antigua Weather Service said. If it does survive, however, they warn Erika could still rebound Sunday when wind shear dies down and estimate winds could top 60 mph in three days by its estimated Monday landfall in Florida. Since buses can’t operate in winds of 39 miles per hour or more, officials will monitor forecasts for the district, where more than 60,000 students ride school buses in Miami-Dade.

Another factor: whether schools will be used as shelters for people who have to evacuate. “For Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the safety and security of students and staff is our number one priority, and will always be the most important factor in our decisions,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said in a statement. I have lost everything and now have to start all over again.” Also in the Pacific, Jimena strengthened to a hurricane Friday morning with maximum sustained winds near 90 mph (150 kph). At the South Florida Water Management District, officials said they would decide today whether to lower water levels in canals or take other measures to control potential flooding. “[Friday] afternoon, we’ll have a pretty good sign of what we expect,” said Jeff Kivet, the district’s director of Operations, Engineering and Construction, who said some rain could help drought conditions in Miami-Dade County and parts of Broward, where canals are already low.

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