Miami-Dade officials say they're not planning for a hurricane as Tropical Storm Erika follows a path more favorable to the Miami area than the course forecasters had projected in recent days.
“The good news is that the tropical storm appears to be moving on a western track and moving south and west of the projected track from the Hurricane Center,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said at a 3 p.m. press conference at the county’s Emergency Operations Center in Doral. “It's less probable we will have a wind event here in South Florida. But we won't know that until it emerges from Hispaniola.”
Gimenez said flooding and water damage from torrential downpours remain a concern, and the county's schools chief said he may decide to cancel Monday classes as early as Saturday afternoon if Erika maintains its current track. But the county has not begun to open shelters or call for the evacuations needed when a hurricane threatens.
After his own private briefing, Gimenez said he was hopeful that Erika's path through Hispaniola and possibly Cuba could break it up into even less of a threat. Erika is crossing over the island home of Haiti and the Dominican Republic Friday afternoon and is projected to skirt close to Cuba Saturday.
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As of its 2 p.m. Friday advisory, the National Hurricane Center no longer expects Erika to hit hurricane strength as it approaches Florida, and the center of the forecast crosses the Keys as a tropical storm sometime between late Sunday and early Monday.
“While it looks better for South Florida, things have a way of changing,” Gimenez said. “The real message is be prepared.”
Erika's schedule could be problematic for school on Monday, even if there is little or no damage. Alberto Carvalho, the county schools chief, said that if Erika hits the Miami area after dark on Sunday, building inspectors won't have time for safety checks in time to clear the facilities for Monday morning. The inspections require inspectors to climb roofs and perform other duties that can only be safely done during daylight, Carvalho said.
“This storm is scheduled to have an impact on the South Florida community sometime Sunday night,” he said. “The fact that our schools cannot be inspected at night make it very, very difficult for us to open schools Monday morning.”
Other factors that could close schools Monday: if winds were forecast to be over 39 mph, or if localized flooding made it too hard for children to make it to their schools.
Carvalho said Erika could weaken enough Saturday to prompt him to proceed with school on Monday. But a decision to close could come as soon as Saturday afternoon or as late as Sunday morning.
Miami-Dade won't activate evacuation zones for a tropical storm, but the county would remove certain critical-care patients from their homes to area hospitals. The broader concern is localized flooding, particularly in coastal areas.
“There is a seasonal high tide going on right now. Tides are somewhat higher than normal,” said Gimenez, a former fire chief for Miami. “It may not be we can get rid of the water as quickly as we want.”