Tropical Storm Erika was always expected to be a major rainstorm, and it has certainly delivered as it tracked through the Caribbean.

At least 20 people are known to have died throughout the region and this toll is sure to rise as many others are still missing. Many communities have been cut off by mudslides and homes, roads and bridges have been destroyed.

The tiny islands of the Lesser Antilles have seen some of the worst of the weather.

In Dominica, an official rainfall reading from Canetown of 320mm gave an indication of the vast amounts of water circulating within Erika.

It had been thought that Erika would hit Puerto Rico and then clip the northern side of Hispaniola, before heading towards The Bahamas.

In the event, Erika went to the south of Puerto Rico, which is in a drought, and would have welcomed at least some rainfall. Landfall was then made on the southern side of Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Barahona on the Dominican Republic's southern coast reported 525mm of rain, and there were unofficial readings of more than 600mm (in excess of three months’ worth of rain in an average year).

Both countries are vulnerable to natural disasters. Mountainous topography and soft soils make mudslides and flash flooding highly likely from any tropical storm. Poverty and poor infrastructure combine to leave the populations at great risk.

The interaction between Erika and mountainous Hispaniola has weakened the storm. It is still expected to bring the risk of both flooding and landslides to Cuba but rainfall intensity will be much lower.

Much uncertainty still exists about what will happen to Erika after it passes over Cuba. It had been thought it might intensify over the very warm waters off the Atlantic coast of Florida, perhaps reaching hurricane status before slamming into the Carolinas.

This does remain a possibility, but it looks increasingly likely that it will keep on a more westward path, either hitting Florida, which has already declared a state of emergency, or the Gulf of Mexico states from Florida to Louisiana.

Source: Al Jazeera