Elsa slows between Haiti and Jamaica after winds cause 2 deaths in Dominican Republic

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SANTO DOMINGO, July 3 (Reuters) – Two people in the Dominican Republic were killed on Saturday, when a wall collapsed due to heavy winds brought on by Elsa, officials said, though the tropical storm was slowing down as it passed between Haiti and Jamaica.

The two deaths occurred in southwest Bahoruco province, according to the director for the Dominican Republic’s center for emergency operations. Some flooding was also reported in San Cristobal province, prompting about 100 evacuations, while waves of 12 to 14 feet (356 cm to 427 cm) washed debris ashore in capital Santo Domingo.

Elsa was clocking maximum sustained winds at 70 miles per hour (110 kph) , but was slowing down as it passed between Haiti and Jamaica, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Elsa has been downgraded to a tropical storm from a hurricane, which is defined as having winds of at least 75 mph (121 kph).

A weakened Elsa was expected to move near the southwestern peninsula of Haiti on Saturday night before heading toward Jamaica and portions of eastern Cuba on Sunday, the NHC said. A reconnaissance aircraft was en route to investigate the storm.

Elsa was expected to move across central and western Cuba and head toward the Florida Straits by Monday, before moving near or over portions of the west coast of Florida on Tuesday.

At a collapsed condominium building in Surfside, Florida, emergency officials said the remainder of the unstable structure could be demolished Sunday ahead of Elsa’s possible arrival as early as Monday.

Early on Saturday, Dominican officials evacuated people living near rivers and creeks in coastal Barahona province as severe flooding was forecast. Haiti, which saw 31 deaths in Hurricane Laura in August, had not ordered evacuations.

A tropical storm warning remained in effect in parts of Haiti, and in Cuba’s eastern provinces, Jamaica.

The NHC announced a tropical storm watch for the Florida Keys, from Craig Key westward to the Dry Tortugas.

Elsa’s forward speed was expected to decrease. A gradual weakening was expected Sunday night and Monday with Elsa near or over Cuba, the NHC said.

Millions of Cubans tried to prepare for heavy rainfall and flooding amid a surge in coronavirus infections, with cases reaching a record 3,500 on Friday.

“Imagine, our lives have been in danger for more than a year and a half because of the coronavirus and now the hurricanes are coming,” Esther Garcia, a homemaker in eastern Santiago de Cuba, said by phone.

Ranchers moved livestock to higher ground, farmers harvested what crops they could, city dwellers searched for food and residents downstream from reservoirs and rivers prepared to evacuate, according to local media reports. The storm on Friday blew roofs off homes, toppled trees and sparked flooding in Barbados. It then pounded St. Vincent with heavy rain and winds of 85 mph (140 kph), which battered banana and plaintain crops.

Elsa’s storm surge was expected to raise water levels by as much as 1 to 5 feet (30 to 152 cm) above normal in some areas. Across portions of southern Hispaniola and Jamaica, rainfall of 4 to 8 inches was expected Saturday into Sunday, the NHC said. (Reporting by Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo, Andre Paultre in Port-Au-Prince, Kate Chappell in Kingston, Jamaica, Nelson Acosta, Marc Frank in Havana and Cassandra Garrison in Mexico City; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and David Gregorio)

Photo A view of intense waves in the avenue of the Malecon, during the passage of tropical storm Elsa in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 03 July 2021. The winds of Elsa, the first hurricane of 2021 in the Atlantic basin, weakened in the last hours and became a tropical storm again as it approached the island of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti), reported the US National Hurricane Center (NHC). EPA-EFE/Orlando Barria

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