Nine Dead, Others Missing After Tropical Storm Erika’s Deluge Hits Dominica

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Tropical Storm Erika left at least nine dead and more than 20 missing in the Caribbean island of Dominica, the country's Prime Minister said Friday, August 28, 2015.

DOMINICA (CNN)–

Images from the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica show the devastation after Tropical Storm Erika left at least nine dead.

One road is cut in half. A plane floats through what used to be an airport runway.

Trisha Scotland said the storm damage is the worst she’s seen in her lifetime.

Scotland walked 6 miles from her home in Jimmit to the capital, Roseau, to check on her mother’s business, photographing the devastation along the way.

“I’ve experienced at least six to seven hurricanes. I’m not even counting the storms. I’m not even counting the depressions,” Scotland said.

More than 20 people are still missing, Charles Roland Jong from Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit’s office said Friday. Eighteen of those people are feared dead, Jong added. He said nine bodies have been recovered.

The country was inundated with almost 12 inches of rain in less than 10 hours, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

Skerrit said Erika caused “extensive damage” across the island after floods wiped out roads and swamped villages.

He expressed particular concern for Petite Savanne, a community hit by mudslides that rescuers haven’t been able to reach.

“This is where many are feared lost,” Skerrit said.

Authorities are focusing on search-and-rescue efforts, with other countries in the region providing helicopters and other assistance.

Skerrit said the task of repairing Dominica’s “dramatically affected” infrastructure would come later, estimating the cost would run into tens of millions of dollars.

“Usually you have damage in one particular area, but this time around it is island-wide,” Scotland said. “It is a difficult challenge ahead for Dominica.”

A ‘disorganized’ storm

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency as the storm heads toward his state.

“We don’t know how much land it’s going to go over,” Scott said at a news conference Friday. “We don’t know how much water we’re going to get.”

The governor told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Friday that flooding is his biggest concern — particularly in the Tampa area, which is already saturated from storms a couple of weeks ago.

As of 5 p.m. Friday, Erika was about 95 miles west-southwest of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. The Dominican Republic was already getting “heavy rains and gusty winds,” the hurricane center said.

Erika is expected to remain a tropical storm as it approaches South Florida. The latest tracking has it passing over Cuba then skirting the western coast of Florida on Sunday and Monday before the center makes landfall on Monday afternoon. Erika is expected to become a tropical depression as it moves over central Florida and heads into Georgia.

However, the hurricane center said conditions are volatile and they could change in the coming days.

Erika has been particularly hard to track, CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray said.

“It’s been very disorganized, so models have had a hard time getting a handle on where exactly this storm is going to go,” she said.

The 5 p.m. update from the hurricane center brought another modification in the storm’s predicted path.

“The track has changed a little bit. There’s still a lot of uncertainty in this storm,” Gray said.

The storm is expected to weaken Friday evening, the hurricane center said, with little change in strength through Saturday night. After it hits warm ocean water between Cuba and Florida, it should intensify some.

The U.S. Coast Guard warned ports in South Florida late Thursday to prepare for the possibility of sustained gale-force winds within 72 hours.

“Mariners are reminded that there are no safe havens in these facilities and that ports are safest when the inventory of vessels is at a minimum,” a Coast Guard statement said. “All oceangoing commercial vessels and oceangoing barges greater than 500 gross tons should make plans for departing the port.”

Storm warning from Hispaniola to the Bahamas

Before the storm reaches Florida, it’s expected to affect much of the Caribbean.

The tropical storm warning in place includes islands from Hispaniola to the portions of the Bahamas. Cuba’s government issued a tropical storm watch for some provinces Friday morning, according to the hurricane center.

Erika’s winds, light for a tropical storm, could weaken a bit as the system moves over Hispaniola on Friday. The island is home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Erika’s maximum sustained winds were 50 mph, with higher gusts, the forecasting center said early Friday. Tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 140 miles from the storm’s center, it said.

But the rain from the storm could be the bigger concern for those in Erika’s path.

“This is going to be a rainmaker,” CNN’s Chad Myers said. “It’s not going to be a wind-maker that blows every building down.”

The storm was expected to produce rainfall of 3 to 6 inches — with a maximum of 10 inches possible — across the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the southeast Bahamas through Saturday.

The hurricane center said the rain could cause “life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.”

‘Erika has wreaked havoc’

Dominica’s Prime Minister posted photos on his Facebook page of roads washed away by muddy floodwaters and a video of a raging river spilling over its banks and swamping cars in a built-up area.

Natalie John, chief executive officer of Dreamy Weddings & Tours Inc., said her staff and friends in Dominica “aren’t doing so well.”

“Erika has wreaked havoc there,” said John, who lives farther north on the island of St. Kitts.

An employee on Dominica told her that a friend’s family was missing after their house was swept away, she said.

At least one of Dominica’s airports was badly damaged. Photos of Douglas-Charles Airport on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page showed a flooded runway and a small plane with water up to its doors.