Hurricane Elsa battered the islands of St. Lucia and Barbados on Friday, tearing off rooftops, downing trees and power lines and blocking roads as it moved across the eastern Caribbean with 75 mph winds and heavy rain.
“We have been significantly affected,” Wilfred Abrahams, Barbados’ minister of home affairs, information and public affairs, said about the passage of the 2021 Atlantic season’s first hurricane. “There is widespread damage to property. There are roofs that have come off, roofs have collapsed, houses have collapsed. There are downed power lines across Barbados, live power lines, downed trees, some roads are impassable.”
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said that based on initial assessments, around 177 roofs had been damaged and at least seven homes had collapsed in the island of 287,025.
Damages have also been reported in St. Lucia. Following the all-clear shortly before 5 p.m., the director of the National Emergency Management Organization, Dorine Gustave, said crews would be out clearing roads of fallen trees and downed power lines.
“We are asking St. Lucians to please remain at home and allow the teams to go out there and do their work,” she said.
As Elsa moved away from the Windward Islands and across the eastern Caribbean Sea, it was on track to cross southwest and western Haiti and the southern Dominican Republic as a Category 1 hurricane. As of the 5 p.m. update, a hurricane warning was in effect for the southern portion of Haiti, from Port-au-Prince to the southern border with the Dominican Republic and the southern coast of the Dominican Republic from Punta Palenque to the border with Haiti.
The island of Hispaniola, which both countries share, is expected to see up to 80 mph winds. Portions of the island will see 4 to 8 inches of rain, with some isolated areas seeing up to 15 inches. The southern coast of Hispaniola is also set to see between 2 and 4 feet of storm surge. Haitian officials Friday asked people living in vulnerable areas to voluntarily evacuate ahead of the storm.
The impending bad weather is likely to trigger flooding and mudslides in both countries.
In the case of Haiti, 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.
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 ongoing violence is having serious consequences and ripple effects on the economy and in terms of the humanitarian access to the southern peninsula — the anticipated route for Elsa.
“We are keeping fingers crossed that it will lose strength and does not cause much damage,” said Bruno Lemarquis, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator in Haiti. “Haiti does not need this these days.”
Lemarquis said Haiti’s national emergency and disaster system has been activated under the leadership of the director general of the Office of Civil Protection, and is working closely with the U.N. system.
Meanwhile, the southern coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engaño to the border with Haiti is under a tropical storm warning. In Cuba, a hurricane watch was issued for the provinces of Camagüey, Granma, Guantánamo, Holguin, Las Tunas and Santiago de Cuba.
Elsa is expected to stay a hurricane a bit longer over Cuba, which is bad news for the vulnerable island as it deals with a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases. Cuba is expected to see 80 mph winds, up to 15 inches of rain and up to six feet of storm surge on its southern coast.
A tropical storm watch is in effect for the northern coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engaño to Bahia de Manzanillo as well as Cayman Brac and Little Cayman in the Cayman Islands.
Hurricane Elsa is forecast to move near Jamaica and portions of eastern Cuba by Sunday, and move over portions of central and western Cuba Sunday night and early Monday. Portions of both Jamaica and Cuba are under a hurricane warning.
The Dominican Republic’s Emergency Operation Center said Friday that all 32 provinces of the Dominican Republic were under alert as Hurricane Elsa hurled itself toward Hispaniola.
The southern provinces of San Cristóbal, Peravia, Azua, Barahona and Pedernales were on “red” alert, authorities announced at a press conference early Friday. Another 16 provinces — mostly towards the east and west of the island nation — were set at yellow alert. The remaining 11, concentrated in the north, are on green alert.
There could be as much as eight inches of rain in some places in the Dominican Republic, officials said, particularly toward the southwest. The east of Hispaniola is expected to start receiving bands of rain and winds early Saturday.
Authorities said that agencies across the government were coordinating the response to Elsa. Around 2,400 shelters were activated for the storm, which can house about 560,000 individuals. Protocols to manage COVID-19 in the temporary refuges are also in place: Masks must be worn, social distancing will be enforced, and space capacities of shelters were reduced.
As Elsa entered the eastern Caribbean, residents in Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines were on high alert.
In Barbados, the meteorological services reported an electrical outage just outside its office in Charnocks, Christ Church. Gusts were reported as high as 78 mph as director Sabu Best warned Barbadians to remain indoors. Several roads were reported to be impassable due to fallen trees.
The police said they had received reports of damaged and dislodged roofs, leading Senior Superintendent John Maxwell to issue an appeal from the National Emergency Operations Center before an all-clear was given.
“There are too many reports of individuals being on the streets at a time when it is not safe. So, please heed the call,” he urged.
The country’s Grantley Adams International Airport announced that it would remain closed until 6 a.m. Saturday.
In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, residents reported downed power lines and blocked roads, as well as a partially damaged bridge. The two-island nation, which experienced the eruption of the La Soufriere Volcano on April 22, was monitoring both the storm’s passage and the volcano, which was still triggering small earthquakes.
The center of Elsa crossed over the extreme north of the mainland of St. Vincent at around 11 a.m., with winds near 75 mph and higher gusts. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 25 miles and tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 140 miles. Emergency personnel were expecting light rain and pockets of intense showers into the evening.
Residents were warned that they could see between 3 to 6 inches of rainfall, with isolated higher amounts late Friday evening.
“This rainfall could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Meteorological Services warned.
As the northern side of St. Vincent experienced the effects of the storm, the National Emergency Management Office warned residents to be aware of the potential for heavy rainfall and settled ash and volcanic debris, which could trigger mudslides.
The country had shut down all activities for Friday, and by midafternoon reported that only 10 shelters had been activated with a total of 65 people.
Cuba is bracing for the storm, issuing an early warning and entering what it calls the “information phase,” in which authorities ask people to pay attention to advisories by the Meteorological Institute.
Late Thursday Cuba activated its civil defense plan, which includes evaluating the need for evacuations on the eastern part of the island on Saturday, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz said during a meeting of a temporary work group.
“All provinces need to check on food supplies and construction materials that we have available to face this potentially serious event,” he said late Thursday during the meeting that was broadcast on the website of the official state newspaper Granma.
The work group was set up last year to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but on Thursday Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel called an extraordinary meeting to discuss preparedness ahead of Elsa.
“We ask our people for discipline so that we don’t have … more deaths. We will overcome this one too,” Díaz-Canel said.
Cuba is facing its deadliest week since the start of the pandemic, breaching the threshold of 3,000 cases per day on Wednesday and registering 20 deaths in a single day on Thursday, also a record high in the island of 11 million.
Miami Herald reporter Alex Harris contributed to this report.