MIAMI - Tropical Storm Erika was soaking Haiti with heavy rain and strong winds on Friday as it swirled across the Caribbean but showed signs of losing steam as it headed toward south Florida, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
Twenty people were confirmed dead on the island of Dominica, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said in an address carried on television and online late Friday. Rescuers were still searching for others reported missing.
Erika was no longer forecast to make landfall in the United States as a hurricane due to some likely weakening over mountainous areas of Haiti and Cuba. Instead, it could lose tropical storm strength by Saturday, with winds falling below 40 miles per hour (64 kph) as it moves over eastern Cuba, although "very heavy rainfall" was a concern.
"The forecast intensity has been significantly changed to show a much weaker cyclone," the hurricane center said in a Friday evening advisory.
Erika could regain intensity over the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico if it survives the mountains, the NHC said.
"We're not quite prepared to rule out tropical storm impacts in Florida," it said.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Friday, noting the storm could travel "up the spine of Florida" from Sunday into next week.