BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, CMC – Ernesto weakened to tropical storm status Sunday evening, but is still expected to bring heavy showers to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the National Hurricane Centre reported.

In it\’s latest bulletin the NHC said reports from an air force hurricane hunter plane indicated that the system\’s maximum sustained winds had decreased to near 60 miles per hour (95 km/hr) with higher gusts.

Ernesto, which reached hurricane strength Sunday morning, was expected to re-strengthen after it moved away from southwestern Haiti and it could regain hurricane status before it reached the south coast of eastern Cuba on Monday morning.

At 5 p.m. a hurricane watch was issued for all of the Florida Keys while a hurricane warning remained in effect for the southwestern peninsula of Haiti from the Haiti-Dominican Republic border westward, to the southwestern tip of Haiti as well as the Cuban provinces of Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Holguin, Las Tunas and Camaguey.

The NHC said a tropical storm warning was recommended for the south coast of the Dominican Republic from Barahona to the Dominican Republic-Haiti border and Jamaica.

At 500 p.m. the centre of Tropical Storm Ernesto was located near latitude 18.0 north and longitude 74.5 west, which placed the storm very near the southwestern tip of Haiti.

Ernesto is moving toward the northwest near 8 mph (13 km/hr) and this general motion is expected to continue for the next 24 hours.

On this track the centre will move away from southwestern Haiti Sunday night and be near the southern coast of eastern Cuba by Monday morning.