SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A killer storm that lashed Puerto Rico and caused devastating floods in the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica is unlikely to wreak havoc in Robeson County, according to the National Weather Service in Wilmington.
“It could bring some rain to the Carolinas, but the moisture track is still a mystery,” said Michael Colby, a meteorologist with the service.
Colby said that Tropical Storm Erika could cause some rain in Robeson County next weekend, “at worst.”
Local folks dodged a bullet with the storm, which killed four people and caused several more to go missing in Dominica early today. The tropical storm appeared poised to grow into a hurricane and possibly reach North Carolina, but Erika lost intensity while tracking through the mountains of the Dominican Republic, according to Colby.
“The threat level has been diffused, so to speak,” he said.
U.S. forecasters said Erika might fall apart over Hispaniola or Puerto Rico or possibly strengthen into a hurricane as it nears South Florida early next week. Most experts have it tracking over Florida while heading northward, so the expectation would be that it would lost strength has it neared Georgia and the Carolinas.
Erika was located about 155 miles east-southeast of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and was moving west near 17 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm’s maximum sustained winds were near 50 mph.
Authorities in Puerto Rico closed certain roads in anticipation of numerous landslides, while rescue crews fanned across Dominica overnight to search for missing and injured people.
“Erika has really, really visited us with a vengeance,” Assistance Police Superintendent Claude Weekes said by phone. “There are many fallen rocks and trees, and water. It’s really chaotic.”
Some 20 people were missing in Dominica, where authorities said an elderly blind man and two children died when a mudslide hit their home in the island’s southeast region. Another man was found dead near his home in the capital of Roseau after a mudslide, but the cause of death could not be immediately determined.
Police in the lush and mountainous island of Dominica expected to reach isolated communities via the ocean because of impassable roads and bridges. The Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency also pledged assistance. Ronald Jackson, the agency’s executive director, said in a phone interview that at least two helicopters would arrive early Friday in Dominica carrying supplies and two medics from Trinidad.
“The only way into Dominica at this time is via helicopter,” he said.
Erika downed trees and power lines in Dominica as it unleashed heavy floods that swept cars down streets and ripped scaffolding off some buildings.
The storm approached Puerto Rico overnight Thursday, prompting Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla to activate the National Guard as a precaution. Officials noted the storm’s outer bands had already downed several trees and power lines across the U.S. territory and caused small landslides. Some 18,000 people were without power, with widespread power outages reported on the popular sister island of Culebra late Thursday.
Garcia said schools and government offices would remain closed on Friday as he warned people to stay indoors.
“We don’t want to report any deaths,” Garcia said. “Use utmost precaution.”
The storm is expected to move near or over the Dominican Republic on Friday as it heads toward the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas.
Tropical storm warnings were in effect for areas across the Caribbean including Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy.
The Robesonian reporter Jaymie Baxley contributed to this report by Danica Coto and Carlisle Jno Baptiste of the Associated Press. Baxley can be reached 910-416-5771.