Hurricane Elsa retreated with tropical storm force as it moved toward Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Saturday, but still threatened to unleash flooding and landslides before targeting Cuba and Florida.
The storm was about 40 miles south of Isla Beata, Dominican Republic, and was moving west-northwest at 29 mph. It had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph as a tropical storm, having been a Category 1 hurricane previously, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The long-term forecast showed it was heading toward Florida as a tropical storm on Tuesday, but some models would take it to the Gulf of Mexico or as far as the Atlantic coast.
In Haiti, authorities used social media to alert people to the storm and urged them to evacuate if they lived near water or on the slopes of mountains.
“The entire country is threatened,” the Civil Protection Agency (CPA) said in a statement. “Do your best to escape before it’s too late.”
Haiti is especially vulnerable to floods and landslides due to widespread erosion and deforestation. Additionally, a recent spike in gang violence has forced thousands to flee their homes, said CPA Director Jerry Chandler.
“It has been three weeks that they have been supporting families fleeing gang violence,” he said. “We are working to renew our stocks, but the biggest problem is logistics.” He said officials were still trying to figure out how to deliver supplies to the southern region of Haiti, which is bracing for Elsa’s impact.
Meanwhile, people were buying food and water.
“I’m protecting myself as best I can. Civil protection is not going to do that for me,” said Darlene Jean-Pierre, 35. “I have other concerns about the street… I have to worry about gang fights. Besides this, we have a hurricane. I don’t know what kind of catastrophe this is going to cause. “
A hurricane warning remains in effect from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to Punta Palenque in the Dominican Republic. A hurricane warning was issued for the Cuban provinces of Camagüey, Granma, Guantánamo, Holguín, Las Tunas and Santiago de Cuba. Some of those provinces have reported a large number of Covid-19 infections, raising concerns that the storm could force large groups of people to seek shelter together.
“Anticipating is the key word,” said Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, adding that vaccination efforts will continue. “Let’s take care of lives and property.”
In the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, authorities opened more than 2,400 shelters when meteorologists warned of heavy rains. Authorities also ordered evacuations ahead of the storm, as people continued to stock up on supplies. Some people were concerned about the state of their homes, and many lived under corrugated cardboard roofs.
“I have a lot of leaks in my zinc,” said Maria Ramos. “What are we going to do? God only knows.”
Elsa was forecast to pass through the southernmost point of Hispaniola on Saturday afternoon and then head to communities in southern Haiti.
The storm had already ripped off roofs, destroyed crops and downed trees and power lines in the eastern Caribbean, with damage reported in Barbados, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which also suffered massive volcanic eruptions that began in April.
At least 43 homes and three police stations were damaged, San Vicente Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said.
“We expect this number to increase as reports continue to come in,” he said. “We have some damage, but it could have been a lot worse.”
In St. Lucia, the wind damaged a high school, hitting desks, overturning chairs and sending papers flying after blowing off the roof and siding.
Puerto Rico authorities rescued eight people, including two children, in stormy conditions after their boat sank amid 8 to 10-foot waves.
Elsa was the first hurricane of the Atlantic season and the fifth oldest storm on record. 4 to 8 inches of rain is forecast to fall with maximum totals of 15 inches in southern parts of Hispaniola and Jamaica.