Tropical Storm Erika has killed at least 12 people on the small island of Dominica and Florida boat owners have hauled boats and are bracing for the worst, as the storm is expected to hit the state by early next week.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott today declared a state of emergency that covers the entire state.
Dominica’s Ministry of Public Works told Trinidad and Tobago TV station CCN TV6 that the death toll has risen above two dozen after the storm left severe flooding and triggered mudslides on Thursday.
"Erika has really, really visited us with a vengeance," Claude Weeks, assistance police superintendent, told the Associated Press during a phone interview. Because many roads and bridges are impassable, crews are trying to reach isolated communities via the ocean, he added.
The Weather Channel reports that governments in San Juan, Puerto Rico, have ordered schools, airports and even casinos to close as they begin to prepare shelters.
Schools and government offices in St. Maarten were closed Thursday. Officials had asked casinos, restaurants and other businesses to close by midnight Wednesday. They warned that they may temporarily suspend power and water service as the storm continues to approach.
Government offices in the U.S. Virgin Islands will be closed and all airports in the USVI will be closed until today, Gov. Kenneth Map told the AP.
Boats docked at Shell Beach Marina on Antigua's north coast have been out of the water since Saturday; owners are taking no chances as Erika approaches, marina employee Caroline Davy told the Associated Press.
Seaborne Airlines and LIAT, based in Puerto Rico and Antigua, respectively, have canceled more than two dozen flights today because of the storm. Officials in Puerto Rico said they suspended ferry transportation between the main island and the sister islands of Culebra and Vieques on Thursday.
In Florida, the state Emergency Operations Center has activated to “level two” in preparation for possible impacts from Erika.
"We are preparing the protective and responsive measures we will need if the storm continues to develop, out of an abundance of caution," Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Bryan W. Koon said.
Boat owners and marinas in South Florida have begun to make their own preparations. Sailfish Marina dockmaster Austin Peters told WPTV that a handful of captains have moved their boats to safer areas. Peters said that if there is a hurricane warning, all boats will be required to leave the marina, a step that will be difficult to take because many owners live out of state.
"Usually some people will go south or north to avoid the storm, or they will go to a drydock, where they will be lifted out of the water," Peters said.
Boaters will be encouraged to add lines to their boats to make sure they’re secured. The marina also plans to shut down gas and water lines if the storm begins to pose a larger threat.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends that, in addition to having a hurricane kit, residents should stock up with a three-day supply of food and water.