Tropical Storm Franklin made landfall Wednesday on the island of Hispaniola shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, dumping heavy rains that are expected to trigger landslides and flooding in both countries.
Franklin was expected to swirl above the island for most of the day, with forecasters warning the storm could drop up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain in the Dominican Republic, with a maximum of 16 inches (41 centimeters) for the country's western and central regions. Meanwhile, up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain are forecast for Haiti, with nearly 8 inches (20 centimeters) for the country's eastern regions.
“The population of the Dominican Republic must all be right now, without exception, in their homes, the homes of friends and family, or in shelters,” said Juan Manuel Méndez, emergency operations director.
More than 200 people were in shelters in the Dominican Republic, where emergency operations officials said they were looking for a 54-year-old man with mental health problems who went missing after he jumped into a creek late Tuesday.
Meanwhile, authorities in neighboring Puerto Rico, which also was hit by Franklin's rain, were searching for two scuba divers missing south of the U.S. territory in waters churned up by the storm.
The U.N.’s World Food Program warned Wednesday that some 125,000 people in the Dominican Republic are living in areas that “are extremely vulnerable to landslides and flash floods because they live in poor, overcrowded settlements near rivers, creeks, and lagoons.”
Hércules Urbáez, a 41-year-old father of six who lives in the city of Barahona where Franklin made landfall, said he and his family went to his mother's house for safety.
“People have refused to leave,” he said.
On late Wednesday morning, the storm was centered about 65 miles (100 kilometers) south-southwest of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It had maximum winds of 40 mph (65 kph) with higher gusts and was moving northward at 13 mph (20 kph).
Rivers were swelling across the country, with one in Barahona lapping at shacks made of tin where at least one resident used plastic buckets to raise his mattress above his home's dirt floor. (Trimming duplicated references to landfall in Barahona.)
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Harold weakened into a tropical depression Tuesday night after making landfall in South Texas, bringing strong winds and rain, leaving thousands of homes without power.
In the Caribbean, officials were most concerned about Franklin’s impact in Haiti, which is prone to catastrophic flooding given the country’s severe erosion.
“Haiti is among the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to the effects of extreme weather," said Jean-Martin Bauer, the World Food Program's director for Haiti. In June, a powerful thunderstorm that unleashed heavy rains left more than 40 people dead across the country.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry had urged Haitians on Tuesday to stock up on water, food and medication.
More than 200,000 people in Haiti have been displaced by gang violence over the past few years: authorities checked up on some of those living on the street or in makeshift shelters.
In the Dominican Republic, officials shuttered schools, government agencies and several airports with at least 25 of the country’s 31 provinces under red alert. By early Wednesday, more than 40 aqueducts were out of service because of heavy rains, affecting more than 830,000 customers.
Flooding already had been reported on Tuesday in the capital, Santo Domingo, and beyond, where residents prepared for heavy rainfall.
“We’re scared of the river,” said Doralisa Sánchez, a government employee who lives near the Ozama River that divides the city. She had to flee her home three times during previous storms.
She hoped Franklin wouldn’t force her to temporarily abandon her home because she said people steal belongings left behind.
Others, like businesswoman Albita Achangel, worried they had nowhere to go if the waters start rising.
“We are hoping for God’s will,” she said, adding that her patio had already flooded.
The storm worried thousands of Dominicans who live in flood-prone areas.
“When two drops of water fall here, this suddenly becomes flooded,” said Juan Olivo Urbáez, who owns a small business in a community near the Ozama River.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for the entire southern coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, as well as the entire northern Dominican coast. The government of the Bahamas also issued a tropical storm warning for the Turks and Caicos Islands, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Franklin is the seventh named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. An eighth named storm, Gert, dissipated on Tuesday.
On Aug. 10, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration updated its forecast and warned that this year’s hurricane season would be above normal. Between 14 to 21 named storms are forecast. Of those, six to 11 could become hurricanes, with two to five of them possibly becoming major hurricanes.