(Fownews) - SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - Tropical Storm Noel slogged across Cuba on Tuesday and drew closer to Florida after causing flooding and mudslides that killed at least 20 people elsewhere in the Caribbean.
Forecasters projected the storm would emerge over water on Wednesday near Cuba's Cayo Coco resort area, turn northeast toward the Bahamas and strengthen. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami warned people in southeast Florida to monitor the storm.
Noel had been forecast to hit Haiti hardest but veered toward the Dominican Republic, apparently catching residents off guard Monday.
"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.
The Dominican Republic's entire power system crashed 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.
Manuel Antonio Luna Paulino, president of the Dominican Republic's National Emergency Commission, said at least 20 people had died and another 20 were reported missing.
They included three dead when they were swept up by a fast-moving river in San Jose de Ocoa, southwest of the capital. Three more - a couple and their child - were killed in a mudslide in the port city of Haina, officials said.
International aid workers said the death toll is certain to rise as reports come in from remote areas of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
"I think this has taken some officials by surprise. The storm was predicted to go more toward Haiti," said Holly Inuretta, a regional adviser for U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or major damage in Cuba.
At 11 a.m. EDT, Noel was centered about 40 miles east-southeast of Camaguey, Cuba, and it was moving toward the west at about 12 mph.