Tropical Storm Erika lashes Caribbean islands and heads for Florida

Tropical Storm Erika is seen in the Caribbean Ocean in a NOAA GOES-East enhanced satellite image

Tropical Storm Erika is seen in the Caribbean Ocean in a NOAA GOES-East enhanced satellite image

Tropical storm Erika lashed Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with heavy rain and fierce winds on Friday, moving across the Caribbean and seemingly heading for the Bahamas and Florida, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Twelve inches (30 cm) of rain was expected in some areas and “could cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides”, the Miami-based government forecaster said.

Several people were still missing after rain-triggered landslides on the small, mountainous island of Dominica on Thursday, country officials said.

Erika, the fifth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, was expected to take a turn toward the northwest later on Friday after soaking the Dominican Republic, and could reach hurricane status near Florida’s east coast by Monday morning.

Forecasts indicate that it has the potential to become the first hurricane to hit Florida since Wilma in October 2005.

The storm could produce between 4 to 8 inches of rain – and as much as 12 inches in some places – across portions of the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas.

The rain was accompanied by sustained winds of about 50 miles per hour (85 km per hour), the hurricane center said.

Overflowing rivers and landslides washed away several roads and bridges on Dominica on Thursday, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said on social media.

Dominica’s tourism minister, Robert Tonge, posted photographs and video on Facebook showing widespread flooding in the capital and urged everyone to stay inside.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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