Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Tropical Storm Noel lashed the Dominican Republic with heavy rains Monday, causing flooding and mudslides that killed at least 20 people and left another 20 missing, officials said.
Noel was expected to dump up to 20 inches of rain on the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which share the island of Hispaniola, as it heads northwest toward the Bahamas.
Forecasters said a tropical storm watch, meaning tropical storm conditions are possible within 36 hours, may be issued for southeast Florida early today.
The spinning tropical storm had been forecast to hit Haiti hardest but veered toward the Dominican Republic, apparently catching residents offguard.
"We didn't know that it was going to be like this, it took us by surprise," said Guarionex Rosado as he left his home in La Cienaga, one of Santo Domingo's most affected neighborhoods.
Noel temporarily knocked out the Dominican Republic's entire power system early Monday, plunging 9.4 million people into the dark for about two hours, said Radhames Segura, vice president of the state-owned electric company.
Some buildings tumbled down hillsides near the Dominican capital, and a cell phone tower slammed to the ground in the southwestern province of Barahona. At least 10 people went missing when the Maimon River overflowed its banks and a sent a torrent of muddy water rushing through the town of Piedra Blanca.
Three of those killed died when they were swept up by a fast-moving river in San Jose de Ocoa, southwest of the capital.
International aid workers believe the death toll is certain to rise as reports come in from remote areas of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.