Florida officials warn residents to prepare for Tropical Storm Erika’s arrival

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Florida officials urged South Florida residents Thursday to prepare for the arrival of Tropical Storm Erika after the storm killed at least four people and causing devastating floods in the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica.

Gov. Rick Scott used a brief press conference to remind locals to stock up on supplies, including at least three days’ worth of food and water.

“Stay up with what’s going on. Follow the local news. Listen to your local elected officials. Stay prepared,” Scott said. “Think about your children, your grandchildren and your parents, your siblings, and think about friends who might have needs.”

Across the region people heeded the governor’s warning. WSVN reported a steady stream of customers were purchasing necessities at grocery stores and taking out extra cash from ATMs, just in case. One grocery store manager told the station that the store had 30 pallets of water ready to be sold, while another said he restocked shelves seven times between noon and 5 p.m. Wednesday in anticipation of the rush.

“Well, just got the last couple of cases of water,” customer Ted Jimenez told the station, “got plenty of food, a freezer full of food, two generators, hurricane impact windows. We even got a propane stove.”

Shayla Abood, a 35-year South Florida resident, was filling up her gas tank ahead of the storm.

“I’d say I’m like 60 percent concerned. I think the least that we’re going to have is a tropical storm,” she said.

In Broward County, just north of Miami, the cities of Hollywood and Hallandale Beach announced they would distribute sandbags Friday and Saturday to residents concerned about possible flooding. Water officials said workers had begun setting up pump stations in Hollywood to keep water levels low ahead of the storm surge.

“We can’t wait until we see where it’s actually going to hit,” Jeff Kivett of the South Florida Water Management District told WSVN, “so we started our preparations.”

Other cities, such as North Miami Beach began work to keep storm drains clear ahead of the expected deluge. Public works trucks were sweeping and cleaning the streets Thursday, while other crews trimmed trees and uprooted coconut palms.

The exact track of Erika remains unclear. As of early Friday morning, the storm was about 145 miles  southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was moving west at 12 mph with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

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. The catch is that if the storm weakens as it passes over Hispaniola, which is constituted by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, that could leave it susceptible to trade winds that would push Erika directly in line with South Florida.

“We have two ends of the spectrum here,” Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Seidel, told the Miami Herald. “The problem right now is until Saturday, Erika is dealing with a lot of wind shear. All the thunderstorms are not wrapped around the center so Erika can’t strengthen.”

Forecasters say the track of the storm will become more clear over the next 48 hours. 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.

As the storm approached Puerto Rico late Thursday, 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.

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