Dominican capital Santo Domingo is under extreme flooding alert as storm brings winds of up to 110km per hour.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic are bracing for potential flooding and damage as Tropical Storm Elsa brought strong winds to the area on Saturday.
The United States’ National Hurricane Center (NHC) said an aircraft measured maximum sustained winds at 110 kilometres (70 miles) per hour, which downgraded Elsa to a tropical storm from a hurricane.
The centre of the storm was passing south of the southwestern peninsula of Haiti, bringing tropical storm conditions to portions of that country and the neighbouring Dominican Republic, the NHS said in a 2pm ET (18:00 GMT) update.
“Little change in strength is forecast through tonight, but gradual weakening is forecast on Sunday and Monday when Elsa is expected to be near or over Cuba,” the agency said.
In the Dominican Republic, officials evacuated people living near rivers and creeks in coastal Barahona province as severe flooding was forecast. The capital Santo Domingo was under an extreme flooding alert, as well.
Emergency groups said they had 2,500 centres ready for evacuated people.
Some people worried about the state of their homes, with many living under corrugated roofing. “I have a lot of leaks in my zinc,” said resident María Ramos. “What are we going to do? Only God knows.”
‘Whole country threatened’
Haiti, which saw 31 deaths in Hurricane Laura in August, had not ordered evacuations, but authorities used social media to alert people about the storm and urged them to evacuate if they lived near water or mountain flanks.
“The whole country is threatened,” the Civil Protection Agency said in a statement. “Make every effort to escape before it’s too late.”
Director Jerry Chandler told The Associated Press that the agency is running low on basic items including food and water as a recent surge in gang violence has already displaced thousands of local people from their homes.
“It’s been three weeks that we’ve been supporting families who are running away from gang violence,” he said. “We are working at renewing our stocks, but the biggest problem is logistics.”
He said officials are still trying to figure out how to deliver supplies to Haiti’s southern region, which braced for Elsa’s impact.
Meanwhile, people bought water and food before the storm approached.
“I’m protecting myself the best that I can. Civil protection is not going to do that for me,” said Darlene Jean-Pierre, 35, as she bought six jugs of water along with vegetables and fruit.
“I have other worries about the street … I have to worry about gangs fighting. In addition to this, we have a hurricane. I don’t know what kind of catastrophe this is going to cause.”
The NHC said the storm is expected to move near the southern coast of Hispaniola – which is divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic – before moving near Jamaica and eastern Cuba on Sunday.
It will head towards the Florida Straits on Monday before moving near or over portions of Florida’s west coast on Tuesday, the agency said.
Authorities in Florida said on Saturday that they planned to demolish a partially collapsed, 12-storey condominium near Miami as soon as possible, amid fears Elsa could bring the rest of the building down in a dangerous way.