Three people dead as Tropical Storm Elsa rages over the Caribbean

By Rumi Samuel Published on July 05, 2021
Three people dead as Tropical Storm Elsa rages over the Caribbean

Tropical Storm Elsa battered the southern coasts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Saturday, downing trees and blowing off roofs as it sped through the Caribbean, killing at least three people.

“This is a hurricane that has hit us for the first time in 66 years,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley said Saturday.

“There is no doubt this is urgent.”

The storm was centred about 175 miles (280 kilometres) east-southeast of Montego Bay, Jamaica, and was swirling west-northwest at 17 mph (28 kph).

According to the National Hurricane Centre in Miami, it had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph). The tropical storm, which had been a Category 1 hurricane earlier on Saturday, weakened its approach to Hispaniola and Cuba.

The storm was forecast to hit Cuba next on a path that would take it to Florida, with some models showing it would spin into the Gulf or up the Atlantic Coast.

A tropical storm watch was in effect for the Florida Keys from Craig Key westward to Dry Tortugas.

Elsa prompted Governor Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency in 15 Florida counties, including in Miami-Dade County, where the high-rise condominium building collapsed last week.

One death was reported in St. Lucia, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

Meanwhile, a 15-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman died Saturday in separate events in the Dominican Republic after walls collapsed on them, according to a statement from the Emergency Operations Center.

The deaths come a day after Elsa caused widespread damage in several eastern Caribbean islands as a Category 1 hurricane, the first of the Atlantic season.

Among the hardest hit was Barbados, where more than 1,100 people reported damaged houses, including 62 homes that completely collapsed as the government promised to find and fund temporary housing to avoid clustering people in shelters amid the pandemic.

According to officials, dozens of trees and power lines lay strewn across Barbados. Several schools and government buildings were damaged, and hundreds of customers were still without power on Saturday.

Barbados suspended classes until Wednesday and expected to reopen its international airport on Sunday.
Downed trees also were reported in Haiti, where 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.”

Haiti is especially vulnerable to floods and landslides because of widespread erosion and deforestation. In addition, a recent spike in gang violence has forced thousands of people to flee from their homes, so the civil protection agency is running low on basic items, including food and water, director Jerry Chandler told The Associated Press.

“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.

As the storm approached, people kept buying food and water.

“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."

A tropical storm warning was in effect for Jamaica and from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to the southern border with the Dominican Republic.

A hurricane watch was issued for the Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Granma, Guantanamo, Holguin, Las Tunas, and Santiago de Cuba. Some of those provinces have reported a high number of COVID-19 infections, raising concerns that the storm could force large groups of people to seek shelter together.

“Anticipating is the keyword,” said Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, adding that vaccination efforts would continue.

“Let's take care of lives and property.”

In the neighbouring Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, authorities opened more than 2,400 shelters as forecasters warned of heavy rains.

Some worried about the state of their homes, with many living under corrugated roofing.

“I have a lot of leaks in my zinc,” said María Ramos. “What are we going to do? Only God knows.”

Rumi Samuel

Rumi Samuel

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