ORLANDO, Fla. - Tropical Storm Chantal skirted the southern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Wednesday, losing some of its force and degenerating into a wave, which could still produce heavy rains and gusty winds.
Chantal was about 145 miles south of Port-au-Prince just before noon, moving west at 29 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was on track to head north across Cuba and toward the Bahamas and Florida, but forecasters said the storm would likely weaken to a tropical depression by Thursday.
"Because she's expected to weaken further, Chantal likely won't have a major impact on our weather," said Local 6 meteorologist Troy Bridges, who added that the system may only be an area of low pressure by the time it reaches Florida.
Maximum sustained winds associated with the wave are near 45 mph and will cover a large area over the waters, mainly south of Hispaniola. Tropical storm force winds could still affect Haiti and eastern Cuba during the next day or so.
Rain chances over the weekend currently stand at 40 percent in Central Florida with highs in the low 90s.
"There will be wind and rain, but as of now, it doesn't look like it will cause any serious issues," Bridges said.
Meanwhile, the storm was no longer expected to make landfall on the island of Hispaniola, but forecasters said it could bring heavy rain to areas where many people live in vulnerable homes of plywood and corrugated steel and where flooding is common.
In both countries, people fortified houses with extra tarps and wood and gathered supplies, largely ignoring warnings to leave their neighborhoods.
"We're going to wait until it's over. We're already used to this," said 36-year-old Sergio Guzman, who along the banks of a river near Santo Domingo.
A tropical storm warning was still in effect Wednesday for the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas. A tropical storm watch was in effect for Jamaica and the central Bahamas.
Still, even a weaker Chantal would likely cause problems for the rural southern peninsula of Haiti and the southwestern Dominican Republic
In the Dominican Republic, state meteorologist Bolivar Ledesma warned that as much as 8 inches of rain might fall along the southern coast.
Haitian officials issued warnings over the radio urging people move away from ravines and stock up on food, though life in Port-au-Prince hummed along like any other day.
"There's not much I can do," Stevenson Etienne, a 40-year-old welder, said from his garage in downtown Port-au-Prince. "Still, I will try to protect myself and my children."
Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, general director for Haiti's Civil Protection Department, said the government had prepared 400 emergency shelters nationwide to accommodate people if needed.
Storms often trigger flooding and landslides in the island of Hispaniola shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but severe deforestation and makeshift housing in Haiti make it especially vulnerable to even moderate rains. Some 279,000 Haitians live in ramshackle settlements established in the capital and elsewhere after the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Chantal had raced through the eastern Caribbean early Tuesday, with officials in Dominica reporting that heavy winds ripped off the roofs of several homes. No injuries were reported there or anywhere else in the region.
The storm passed overnight to the south of Puerto Rico. Authorities in the U.S. island territory said some 7,000 people are without power and more than 2,500 people without water. More than 20 people also sought shelter at a school in the southern city of Ponce, but officials said they would return home soon. Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla also ordered public employees to return to work on Wednesday.
The U.S. Coast Guard said all ports in Puerto Rico have reopened except those along the island's southern and western coasts.
Copyright 2013 by ClickOrlando.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.