After keeping Florida residents transfixed for days, Erika met its match in the crosswinds near Cuba, leaving it sputtering toward the Gulf of Mexico early Sunday with just one promise: rain.
Weather specialists predict that by the time the remnants get closer to Florida on Sunday, it will bring rain -- three to five inches -- and possibly heavy flooding.
On Sunday afternoon, all southbound express lanes on Interstate 95 north of State Road 112 were shut down because of pooling water, according to FHP spokesman Joe Sanchez.
The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch from 5 a.m. Sunday through 8 a.m. Monday for South Florida, parts of southwest Florida and the area around Lake Okeechobee.
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An urban flood advisory was put into effect for downtown Miami, Miami Beach and north to North Miami until 11 a.m. Sunday, with reports of street-flooding.
The first tropical storm in recent years to take aim at South Florida — spurring deadly mudslides in Dominica in the Caribbean — slowed over the steep mountains of Hispaniola and finally succumbed to the wind shear near Cuba early Saturday.
By the time Tropical Storm Erika was downgraded at 9:30 a.m. Saturday to an open wave, the possibility of rain and flooding in South Florida were the only predictions for a region that was preparing for far worse.
“We dodged a bullet,” said Doral Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez, who spent the last three days stocking up on essentials. “At one point last week, we had three storms brewing at the same time.”
Buoyed by the cancellation of tropical storm advisories on Saturday morning, public officials began a litany of announcements that government services would resume and schools would be open on Monday, drawing much of the week’s drama to a close in Florida.
For days, the confounding storm swept across the ocean with sustained winds peaking at 50 mph, lashing a succession of island nations, including Puerto Rico, Haiti and Dominican Republic, inflicting the greatest damage to the small island of Dominica, where mudslides wiped out entire villages, killing 20.
“"The extent of the devastation is monumental,” said Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, “adding that hundreds of homes, bridges and roads were destroyed. Heavy floods swept cars down streets and ripped scaffolding off buildings. “We have, in essence, to rebuild Dominica … this is heart wrenching.”
In Haiti, where so much devastation has taken place over the years, the damage was far less, but government workers were still inspecting trouble spots late Saturday.
A mother and child were injured in the capital city of Port-au-Prince after their house collapsed in the wind and rain. Overall, most of Haiti appeared to be spared, even with reports of a river overflowing and flooding in some areas. By Saturday, airports reopened.
“God was with us,’’ said Prime Minister Evans Paul. “There are problems but not a lot of damages.’’
Hundreds of migrants who fled tightened immigration rules in the nearby Dominican Republic and now live in camps along the border of southeast Haiti were supposed to evacuate the area, but were unable to escape because of the lack of transportation.
“Everyone is holding onto one another underneath pieces of tarp,” said Pastor Edouane Pierre-Paul, who was speaking from Pak Kado, one of the camps.
As the storm swept across the Carribbean, weather experts struggled at times to pinpoint the movement, partly because of the wide range of models.
While government workers across the Caribbean were trying to assess the damage, the remnants of Erika were rolling late Saturday toward the southeastern Gulf of Mexico.
Though the storm has dissipated, there is a possibility it could build strength again while passing over the warmer Gulf waters, said Brian McNoldy, a researcher at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “The water that it’s going over is super warm, and that’s what it needs,” he said.
Not since Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Sandy — both in 2012 — had a storm system aimed so directly at Florida, said McNoldy, prompting residents in the region to flock to stores over the past week to snatch up emergency supplies.
Even after the storm was declared over on Saturday, residents were still crowding into stores like Home Depot on Southwest 113th Avenue and Bird Road, where lines at the customer service desk were as long as 10 deep.
At the Publix across the street, Javier Molina was running errands for his mother. “We still wanted to stock up on water and stuff just in case,” said Molina, 20.
Rodriguez, the Doral councilwoman, said the region’s focus on Erika — watching its path toward Florida over five days — was a helpful exercise for residents to get ready for the season.
She said thousands in Miami-Dade are still reminded of the haunting images brought by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 — a Category 5 storm that killed 23 people and devastated major portions of the county. “We’ve come a long way,” she said.
Miami Herald Staff writer David J. Neal and Herald wires services contributed to this report.
Services resume, schools open
With the dissipation of Tropical Storm Erika, officials announced regular schedules and services:
▪ City of Miami will resume normal operations on Monday with the Department of Solid Waste Mini Dump Facility open special hours over the weekend.
▪ All Miami-Dade and Broward public schools will be open Monday.
▪ The Coast Guard reopened all South Florida ports on Saturday.
▪ City of Miami Beach said all municipal services and facilities, including parking and parks and recreation, have returned to normal operations.
▪ Miami Dade College and Florida International University said Monday’s classes will proceed as scheduled.