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The storm is expected to near South Florida by Monday, but it's too early to say how much force it might have.

Erika soaks Caribbean, heads for U.S. East Coast

Saturday, August 29, 2015, 6:00 - (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Erika strengthened as it dumped torrential rain on islands in the Eastern Caribbean and appeared to be headed for the U.S. East Coast early next week, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Thursday.

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Erika could reach hurricane status near Florida's east coast by Monday morning, the Miami-based government forecaster said. 

Heavy rains lashed the small, mountainous island of Dominica with almost 9 inches reported at Canefield airport near the capital, Roseau. 

Dominica's Tourism Minister Robert Tonge posted photographs and video on Facebook showing widespread flooding in the capital and urged everyone to stay inside.

While forecasters can be reasonably certain of Erika's path, its intensity is harder to predict and it could fall apart as it passes over land and battles hostile winds. 

Last week the season's first hurricane, Danny, dissipated rapidly as it reached the Caribbean. 

The last hurricane to hit Florida was Wilma in October 2005. Florida Governor Rick Scott held a statewide conference call with emergency officials, Florida National Guard, and local law enforcement. Afterward, he said 8,000 National Guard were ready to mobilize and communications had been tested in anticipation of a weekend landfall.

He urged residents, especially those who have moved to Florida in the decade since Wilma, to follow news reports. Coastal residents should lay in a three-day supply of food and water, know where emergency shelters are and check on elderly or infirm friends and relatives, Scott said. 

“If they say you need to evacuate, you need to evacuate,” he said. “If you look to the history, a lot of times it’s not the storm that causes the problem, it’s the aftermath because as individuals we didn’t get prepared.”

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Erika, the fifth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, was about 125 miles (201 km) west of Guadalupe with maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour (80 kph) as of midday. It was expected to reach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by Thursday evening, then pass over the Dominican Republic on Friday and continue northwest over the Bahamas.

SEE ALSO: How hurricanes relate to climate change

Tropical storm warnings were in effect for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, St. Martin/St Maarten, St. Barthelemy, Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, Saba and St. Eustatius.

Erika was expected to produce 3 to 5 inches of rain across portions of the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic through Friday, offering relief from a recent drought.

A tropical storm warning means tropical storm conditions are possible within 36 hours. 

Be sure to check back for updates as we continue to monitor the forecast.

RELATED VIDEO: Weather Network meteorologist Mark Robinson is in Florida tracking Erika's potential impact on South Florida

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