Puerto Rico girds for possible hurricane as Tropical Storm Fiona nears

havana — Tropical Storm Fiona headed toward Puerto Rico on Saturday, with forecasters warning that it would strengthen into a hurricane on Sunday with heavy rains that could cause landslides, flash floods and power outages.

The storm has already battered several eastern Caribbean islands, killing one in the French territory of Guadeloupe. Regional prefect Alexandre Rochaté said the body was found on the side of the road after a house was swept away in the capital of Basse-Terre. More than 20 people were rescued from strong winds and rain that left 13,000 customers without power as the storm uprooted roads, toppled trees and destroyed at least one bridge.

Fiona was centered about 75 miles (120 kilometers) south of St. Croix on Saturday evening with sustained winds of 60 mph (95 km/h). It was moving west at 8 mph (13 kph) and was forecast to pass near or over Puerto Rico on Sunday night. Fiona was expected to become a hurricane before reaching the southern coast of Puerto Rico.

“We’re already starting to feel the effects,” Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierlusi said at a news conference in which the lights went out briefly as he spoke and cheers and laughter spread across the island. “We must not underestimate this storm.”

Officials said the expected heavy rains would be dangerous because the island’s soil is already saturated.

“We’re not saying the winds aren’t dangerous, but we’re preparing for a historic event in terms of rainfall,” said Ernesto Morales, forecaster at the National Weather Service in San Juan.

Many Puerto Ricans have been concerned about power outages since the island’s power grid, devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, has just begun to be rebuilt. The grid remains fragile and power outages occur daily.

Luma, the company that operates power transmission and distribution on the island, flew in an extra 100 lineworkers ahead of the storm but warned of “significant” outages over the weekend.

Fiona was forecast to move into the Dominican Republic and then Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands as a potential hurricane on Monday, with a threat of heavy rain.

The forecaster posted a hurricane watch for the US Virgin Islands as well as the southern coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano west to Cabo Cosedo and the northern coast from Cabo Engano west to Puerto Plata.

In Puerto Rico, authorities opened shelters and closed public beaches, casinos, theaters and museums as they urged people to stay indoors. Officials relocated hundreds of endangered Puerto Rican parrots to their sanctuaries.

“It’s time to activate your emergency plan and reach out to your relatives and help them, especially elderly people living alone,” Dr. said Gloria Amador, who runs a nonprofit health organization in central Puerto Rico.

The governor said an elderly man died after arriving at a shelter on the small island of Culebra, just east of Puerto Rico. He said the man was living in squalid conditions and the mayor was trying to relocate him, calling it a “very unfortunate incident”.

Pierlusi said $550 million in emergency funds were available to deal with the post-storm situation and enough food to feed 200,000 people three times a day for 20 days.

At least one cruise ship visit and several flights to the island were cancelled, while authorities in eastern Caribbean islands canceled schools and banned people from practicing water sports as Fiona battered the region.

On Guadeloupe, officials said they reported wind gusts of up to 74 mph (120 km/h). He also said 9 inches (23 centimeters) of rain fell in three hours in the Gros Morne area.

Fiona, the sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, was forecast to drop 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 cm) of rain in eastern and southern Puerto Rico, with 20 inches (51 cm) in isolated locations. Rainfall of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) was forecast for the Dominican Republic, with up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) expected in places. Fiona’s winds also made life-threatening surf possible, forecasters said.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lester in the eastern Pacific Ocean dissipated on Saturday afternoon after making landfall south of Acapulco on Mexico’s southwest coast.

The hurricane center said Lester’s remnants could still drop 8 to 12 inches (20 to 31 centimeters) along the coast of Guerrero state and Michoacán state, and isolated areas could get 16 inches (41 centimeters) of rain.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Madeline formed deep in the Pacific, but forecasters predicted it would pose no threat to land as it moved further out to sea.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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