Elsa continued to move through the Caribbean Sea Saturday toward the island of Hispaniola, which the Dominican Republic and Haiti share, both nations issued red alerts, warning residents to anticipate massive amounts of rains and winds.
Authorities temporarily banned all flights and boats from the ports and airports in the southern region of Haiti.
“The passage of this hurricane along the south of the country can be very dangerous,” acting Haitian Prime Minister Claude Joseph said, warning Haitians in vulnerable areas to be prepared to evacuate and to avoid crossing rivers. “It’s coming with a lot of rain, a lot of wind.”
Elsa was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm as of 11 a.m. ET as it continued its march toward the southern coast of Hispaniola after battering the eastern Caribbean islands of Barbados, St. Lucia and the St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Though it had weakened from a Category 1, the storm’s trajectory was still a concern as Haitians braced for passage close to the country’s southern region later Saturday into Sunday, then moving toward Jamaica and portions of eastern Cuba on Sunday.
The impact of the storm in the eastern Caribbean, especially in Barbados, has raised concerns about the increasing impact of climate systems in the Caribbean, which is now seeing the formation of hurricanes much earlier. This is already the fifth storm system of the Atlantic season.
Elsa, which was upgraded from a Tropical Storm to a Category 1 Hurricane early Friday morning, was not a direct hit on Barbados. Yet it took out all of the electricity, damaged at least 586 roofs and led to the collapse of at least 20 homes, according to preliminary assessments, the head of the Emergency Disaster Management Agency said.
“The Barbados Meteorological Service said the eye of the storm crossed about 20 miles to the south of the island but because of the extent to which the hurricane force winds extended,” there was widespread damage, Elizabeth Riley said during a press conference.
“There have been other impacts from other systems in a similar way where the eye would have passed off shore,” she added. “Climate change is no longer a conversation that is futuristic but climate change is happening right now and we anticipate seeing further changes in the future.”
While damage assessments are ongoing, initial reports show that half of Barbados’ population was still without power Saturday morning, while in neighboring St. Lucia, residents were also dealing with blackouts, disruption to the drinking water supply and “significant roof damage” to homes and government apartments from the hurricane force winds.
In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where 2,000 people were already in shelters from the erupting La Soufrière volcano, authorities reported downed power lines, roof damages to at least 43 homes and a partly damaged bridge.
With the system now aimed at Haiti, Riley said they were in ongoing conversations with the country’s Office of Civil Protection for guidance if a humanitarian response is needed.
“We are looking at the situation with the system itself, because the system and the characteristics of the system help to paint the kind of scenario that could potentially play out in terms of impact,” she said. “Haiti has certainly faced Category 1 systems before and the national level systems, I would say have become more robust of the year.”
“The forward speed of the system is of assistance to us,” she added about Elsa. “it’s still quite quick for a cyclone. The faster the system passes through, the general rule of thumb is the less damage it’s likely to cause compared to if it had a slower movement.”
At 8 a.m. Saturday, the National Hurricane Center said the center of the hurricane was located 110 miles southeast of Isla Beata, Dominican Republic, and about 440 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica. The storm was moving toward the west-northwest at around 31 mph and had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph.
By the 11 a.m. advisory, the National Hurricane Center said Elsa had weakened and downgraded it to a tropical storm. It had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph and was moving west northwest at 29 mph, about 40 miles south of Isla Beata in the Dominican Republic and about 350 miles east of Kingston, Jamaica. Tropical storm level winds extended 125 miles from the center.
Like Haiti, the Dominican Republic’s Center of Emergency Operations warned residents the country could experience the possible flooding of rivers, streams and ravines.
The Dominican’s Center of Emergency Operations elevated the number of provinces that were on red alert from five to nine on Friday night. Those provinces are Barahona, Pedernales, Peravia, Azua, San Cristóbal, San José de Ocoa, Santo Domingo, Distrito Nacional and San Pedro de Macorís. All of them are concentrated toward the south of Hispaniola, which is closest to the path of Elsa.
Early Saturday, the weather over Haiti was partly cloudy with moderately strong winds and with a few stronger gusts. But Joseph, the prime minister, reported that regions had already experienced rainfall.
Vulnerable to any heavy rainfall, Haiti is forecast to receive cumulative rainfall of 4 to 6 inches of rain — or even 8 inches on the mountains including the La Selle mountain range, La Hotte and the La Gonâve. Strong wind gusts ranging from 73 mph and 80 mph, as well as dangerous sea conditions, were in the forecast. All could cause severe flooding, flash floods, mudslides and coastal flooding in the southern regions of the country, Haiti’s emergency disaster agency warned.
Elsa is coming on top of an already very complex situation that includes a sociopolitical crisis, a deadly resurgence of COVID-19, armed gang violence and population displacement in Haiti.
The violence is having serious consequences and ripple effects on the economy and the humanitarian response in terms of access to the southern peninsula — the anticipated route for Elsa. It has been cut off from the capital because of the gang violence.
Since June 1, more than 16,000 Haitians from poor, working-class neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince have been forced to flee their homes because of armed conflict between rival gangs.
The Office of Civil Protection said all teams and structures were mobilized, and discussing how to address the emergency response if needed. Elsa had the possibility of entering the southeast of Haiti or brush Haiti, he and others warned.
“Regardless of the scenario all of the southern coast of Haiti has the possibility of being affected by violent winds,” Esterlin Marcelin of Haiti’s Hydro-Meteorological Service said during a press conference.
At 10 a.m. Haiti had already registered rainfall in several regional departments across its mountainous terrain. Hurricane Elsa was 186 miles from the commune of Anse-à-Pitres along the Haitian-Dominican border in the southeast.
In addition to preparing for the impending hurricane, Haitian emergency personnel were still trying to deal with an aircraft accident Saturday after a single-engine airplane crashed Friday night, killing all six persons on board. The plane was en route to the town of Jacmel in southeast, Haiti.
Miami Herald reporter Adriana Brasileiro contributed to this report.(c)2021 Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.