SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Tropical Storm Chantal threatened to turn into a hurricane while it churned toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti as authorities there and in Puerto Rico warned of possible landslides and heavy flooding.
The storm was located about 215 miles (345 kilometers) south of San Juan, Puerto Rico around 11 p.m. EDT Tuesday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph), and was moving west-northwest at 28 mph (44 kph).
The center issued a hurricane watch for the Dominican Republic's southern coast, with the storm expected to be near or over the country by Wednesday afternoon. Chantal is then expected to be over the southeastern and central Bahamas on Thursday.
Dominican officials urged those living in low-lying areas to evacuate, but few paid heed.
"We're sure nothing is going to happen," said Geovanny Batista, leader of an impoverished community in the capital of Santo Domingo built largely of wood, cardboard and zinc.
"We can't just go and leave behind our belongings," he said. "Thieves will come and take them."
Officials in Haiti encountered similar resistance despite repeated radio warnings.
Street vendor Marc St. Juste said he was unaware a storm was coming, but upon learning the news, he decided to remain outside a bit, if only to sell a few more snow cones in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti's congested capital.
"I'm going to go home as soon as possible," St. Juste said as he pushed his rickety wooden cart topped with frozen ice and colorful syrups. "But I'm still going to stay out to make as many sells as possible."
Chantal could be near hurricane strength before it reaches Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Both countries are vulnerable to flooding and landslides from storms, but widespread deforestation and ramshackle housing in Haiti mean even moderate rains pose a significant threat.
Haiti is already in the middle of its rainy season, with 279,000 people still living in grim settlements that popped up in the capital and elsewhere after the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Meteorologists with AccuWeather also warned that the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico would be hard hit, given that some 13 inches (33 centimeters) of rain already have fallen in the capital of San Juan since June, nearly twice the normal rainfall for that period.
"Much of the landscape is primed for excessive runoff and flooding," AccuWeather said.
Chantal was expected to produce rain and strong winds in Puerto Rico, with gusts of up to 60 mph (96 kph) in southern and mountainous areas, Krizia Negron, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told The Associated Press. Chantal is expected to pass some 70 miles (113 kilometers) south of Puerto Rico early Wednesday, she said.
At least 17 roads will be closed as a preventive measure in the southern mountainous town of Yauco, where some 30 percent of the population lives under zinc roofs, Mayor Abel Nazario told the AP.
"When it rains a lot, a portion of the mountain comes down," he said. "That's always a concern."
Officials in the southern mountain town of San German also warned of possible heavy flooding, given that six rivers run through it, said Mayor Isidro Negron.
Meanwhile, in the popular southwest tourist town of Cabo Rojo, crews cleared branches and debris to prepare for heavy rainfall, said Milton Llitera, the town's emergency management director.
"When this floods, it doesn't forgive," he told the AP.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, a tropical storm warning was in effect for Puerto Rico, the entire coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands.
A tropical storm watch was in effect for the U.S. Virgin Islands, Vieques and Culebra and central Bahamas.
Up to eight inches (20 centimeters) of rain could fall in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic and Haiti.
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.
Chantal also forced Carnival Cruise Lines to change the itineraries of two of its ships, the Carnival Liberty and Carnival Victory, spokesman Vance Gulliksen said.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico and Lopez from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Associated Press writers Trenton Daniel in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Guy Ellis in Castries, St. Lucia; Carlisle Jno Baptiste in Roseau, Dominica; and David McFadden in Kingston, Jamaica contributed to this report.
Earlier on HuffPost:
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October: 210,000 displaced <em>An Indian woman watches as the wind rises in the run up to Cyclone Nilam in Chennai on October 31, 2012. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 19: Monsoon Floods, North Korea
June/July: 212,000 displaced <em>South Korean trucks carrying 500 tons of flour for North Korean flood victims drive past a military checkpoint near the inter-Korean border in Paju, north of Seoul, on September 21, 2012. (JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 18: Floods And Landslides, Japan
July: 250,000 displaced <em>A collapsed house lies in the Hoshino River in Yame City, Fukuoka prefecture on July 16, 2012 following four days of torrential rainfall. (KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 17: Rainy Season Floods, South Sudan
June/July: 340,000 displaced <em>Sudanese refugees wait in line to board a truck heading to Batil refugee camp July 15, 2012 in Jamam camp, South Sudan. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)</em>
No. 16: Hurricane Sandy, Cuba
October: 343,000 displaced <em>Cubans clear of debris their house, partially demolished by Hurricane Sandy, on October 25, 2012 in Guantanamo, Cuba. (ARIEL SOLER COSTAFREDA/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 15: Monsoon Floods (1st Period), China
April/May: 443,000 displaced <em>In this picture taken on May 29, 2012, residents cross a flooded street on a row of tables in Wuhan, central China's Hubei province. (AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 14: Rainy Season Floods, Chad
July/October: 500,000 displaced <em>Sandbags protect a house on October 12, 2010 near a flooded area of the Chadian capital N'Djamena after the Chari river left its bed on October 11, destroying hundreds of homes. (AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 13: Rainy Season Floods, Niger
July/August: 530,000 displaced <em>Local residents carry their belongings as they evacuate their homes in Niamey, the capital of Niger, on August 19, 2012 after flooding caused by the Niger River. (BOUREIMA HAMA/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 12: Typhoon Kai-Tak, China
August: 530,000 displaced <em>A ferry sails in Hong Kong's Victoria Habour Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)</em>
No. 11: Monsoon Floods, Bangladesh
June: 600,000 displaced <em>Bangladeshi rickshaw drivers transport passengers during a downpour in Dhaka on July 28, 2012. The monsoon rains, which sweep across the subcontinent from June to September, are crucial for farmers but also claim many casualties from flooding every year. (MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 10: Hurricane Sandy, United States
October: 776,000 displaced <em>Homes sit smoldering after Hurricane Sandy on October 30, 2012 in the Breezy Point Neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)</em>
No. 9: Twin Typhoons Saola And Damrey/Floods, China
August: 867,000 displaced <em>This picture taken on August 6, 2012 shows rescuers evacuating a young girl from her flooded home after a storm following Typhoon Saola hit Shiyan, in central China's Hubei province, leaving 14 dead. (STR/AFP/GettyImages)</em>
No. 8: Monsoon Floods (2nd Period), China
June/July: 1,420,000 displaced <em>This picture taken on July 6, 2012 shows visitors gathering to watch giant gushes of water being released from the Xiaolangdi dam to clear up the sediment-laden Yellow river and to prevent localized flooding, in Jiyuan, central China's Henan province. (STR/AFP/GettyImages)</em>
No. 7: Floods/Monsoon And Typhoon Effects, Philippines
June/August: 1,553,000 displaced <em>A girl is submerged in the water outside her home next to the swollen Pampanga River August 15, 2012 in Bulacan, Philippines. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)</em>
No. 6: Monsoon Floods, Pakistan
August/September: 1,857,000 Pakistani flood affected villagers seek refuge on a dry patch in the flood-hit Jacobabad district of Sindh province on September 17, 2012. (SHAHID ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
No. 5: Typhoon Pablo (Bopha), Philippines
December: 1,932,000 displaced <em>This photo taken on December 29, 2012 shows a father and his children collecting coconuts among debris swept ashore at the height of Typhoon Bopha in Cateel in Davao Oriental province. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 4: Monsoon Floods (2nd Period), India
August/September: 2,000,000 displaced <em>Villagers paddle their boat near submerged houses in a village near Kaziranga National Park on September 27, 2012. (STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 3: Typhoon Haikui Floods, China
August: 2,079,000 displaced <em>A watermelon field is damaged by Typhoon Haikui on August 8, 2012 in Taizhou, China. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)</em>
No. 2: Rainy Season Floods, Nigeria
September/October: 6,089,000 displaced <em>Eighty-seven-year-old displaced victim of flood Lydia Anuasa (C) sits on her wares following notice of forceful ejection from a relief camp by the authorities of Bayelsa State government in Yenagoa, in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, on November 15, 2012. (PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 1: Monsoon Floods (1st Period), India
June/July: 6,900,000 displaced <em>Villagers travel on a country boat through flood waters at the flood affected area of Tataliguri in Morigoan district, some 80 kms from Guwahati, the capital city of India’s northeastern state of Assam on June 29, 2012. (BIJU BORO/AFP/Getty Images)</em>