(CNN) -- Tropical Storm Noel weakened Tuesday over most of Cuba after lashing the island's northern coast, but heavy rains continued to deluge the Dominican Republic, Haiti and portions of the Bahamas, forecasters said.
Gen. Luis Luna Paulino, director of civil defense for the Dominican Republic, said 16 people have died there and 16 are missing.
Outlying bands of the storm were expected to reach the southeast edge of Florida on Wednesday night or Thursday morning, before veering from the U.S. coast.
Forecasters say a tropical storm watch may be issued for that part of Florida later Tuesday or Wednesday. A storm watch means tropical storm conditions, including winds of at least 39 mph (62 kmh), are expected within 36 hours.
However, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in its 8 p.m. ET Tuesday advisory that Noel's intensity is not expected to change within the next 24 hours.
As of 8 p.m., Noel's center was about 25 miles (40 km) south-southwest of Camaguey, Cuba, and about 275 miles (440 km)south of Nassau, Bahamas. It was drifting west-northwest at near 4 mph and was clinging to tropical storm status with maximum sustained winds near 40 mph (65 kmh) and higher gusts, forecasters said. Tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 175 miles (280 km), mainly to the east of the center.
The storm is expected to gradually turn toward the northwest over the next day, the hurricane center said.
"On this track, the center of Noel is expected to remain over Cuba today and tonight but emerge off the northern coast of Cuba tomorrow," the center said in a statement Tuesday.
Preparations were taking place Tuesday at Homestead Air Reserve Base near Miami, Florida. Twenty-four F-16 fighter jets were relocating to Dobbins Air Force Base near Atlanta, Georgia.
As of 5 p.m. ET Tuesday, the government of Cuba had extended a tropical storm warning westward and southward. The provinces of Sancti Spiritus, Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Granma, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo were in the warning area. A tropical storm warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected in the warning area within 24 hours.
A tropical storm warning was also in place for the central and northwestern Bahamas. The storm has been walloping Hispaniola, the island that the Dominican Republic and Haiti share. Watch the latest on the storm »
Some airline flights between the Bahamas and the United States were canceled. Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines changed the itineraries of some cruises to avoid the worst of the storm.
There have been conflicting reports on the number of deaths in the Dominican Republic.
Provincial officials in San Cristobal told CNN that 25 people have died there, and dozens more are unaccounted for as flooding and mudslides plague the region. The national Center for Emergency Operations counted 11 deaths in San Cristobal. See the scenes of heavy flooding »
Noel was expected to drop 10 to 20 inches of rain over the Dominican Republic and Haiti, with possible maximum amounts in isolated areas of 30 inches. Total accumulations of 5 to 10 inches, with possible maximum amounts of 15 inches, are possible over southeastern Cuba and the Bahamas, the hurricane center said.
Juliana Pierossi, a spokeswoman for the aid agency World Vision International, said floods have forced hundreds from their homes in the Dominican Republic, drenched fields full of crops and cluttered the roads of the capital, Santo Domingo, with debris and stalled cars. Watch the devastation brought by water, mud and wind »
"World Vision has started to distribute food and water for people who are in shelters, but we're worried about long-term effects," she said.
Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said, "This is just one of those storms that tells you the [hurricane] season does not end until November 30. Anything can happen." E-mail to a friend
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