Tropical Storm Fiona tracked toward Puerto Rico on Saturday, with forecasters warning it would likely develop into a hurricane before hitting Sunday with extremely heavy rains that could cause landslides, severe flooding and power outages.
The storm has already hit several eastern Caribbean islands, with one fatality reported in the French territory of Guadeloupe. Regional prefect Alexandre Rochatte said the body was found on the side of a road after a house was swept away in the capital Basse-Terre. More than 20 other people were rescued amid strong winds and rain that left 13,000 customers without power, with the storm tearing up roads, knocking down trees and destroying at least one bridge.
Fiona was centered 70 miles (115 kilometers) south of St. Croix late Saturday afternoon, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph). It was moving west at 9 mph (15 km/h) on an expected track to pass near or over Puerto Rico on Sunday evening. Fiona was expected to become a hurricane before reaching the southern coast of Puerto Rico.
“We are already starting to feel its effects,” Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi said at a news conference in which the lights briefly went out as he spoke, prompting groans and laughter. across the island. “We must not underestimate this storm.”
Officials said the heavy rain forecast would be dangerous as the ground on the island is already saturated.
“We’re not saying the winds aren’t dangerous, but we’re preparing for a historic event in terms of rain,” said Ernesto Morales, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in San Juan.
Many Puerto Ricans have worried about severe power outages since rebuilding the island’s power grid, which was razed by Hurricane Maria in 2017, only recently began. The network remains fragile and power cuts occur daily, with some 37,000 customers already in the dark on Saturday.
Luma, the company that manages power transmission and distribution on the island, said it sent 100 extra linemen ahead of the storm but warned of “significant” outages over the weekend.
Fiona was expected to pass the Dominican Republic on Monday as a potential hurricane, then Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands with the threat of extreme rainfall.
The forecaster posted a hurricane watch for the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as the southern coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engaño in the west to Cabo Caucedo and for the northern coast from Cabo Engaño in the west to in Puerto Plata.
In Puerto Rico, authorities have opened shelters and closed public beaches, casinos, theaters and museums, urging people to stay indoors. Authorities also transferred hundreds of endangered Puerto Rican parrots to their shelter.
“Now is the time to activate your emergency plan and reach out and help your loved ones, especially older people who live alone,” said Dr Gloria Amador, who runs a nonprofit health organization in central Puerto Rico.
Pierluisi said $550 million in emergency funds were available to deal with the aftermath of the storm along with enough food to feed 200,000 people for 20 days three times a day.
At least one cruise ship visit and several flights to the island were cancelled, while authorities in the eastern Caribbean islands canceled school and banned people from water sports as Fiona pounded the region.
In Guadeloupe, authorities said they had recorded gusts of wind of up to 120 km / h. They also said 9 inches (23 centimeters) of rain fell in three hours in the Gros Morne area.
Fiona, which is the sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, is expected to bring 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 centimeters) of rain to eastern and southern Puerto Rico, with up to 20 inches ( 51 centimeters) in isolated places. Rains of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) were forecast for the Dominican Republic, with up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) in places. Life-threatening waves were also possible from Fiona’s winds, forecasters said.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lester in the eastern Pacific dissipated Saturday afternoon after making landfall south of Acapulco on Mexico’s southwest coast.
The storm cluster was about 95 miles (155 kilometers) east-southeast of Acapulco, with maximum sustained winds of 30 mph (45 km/h) late in the afternoon.
The hurricane center said the remnants of Lester could drop 8 to 12 inches (20 to 31 centimeters) of rain on the coasts of Upper Guerrero and Michoacan state, with isolated areas receiving 16 inches (41 centimeters).
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Madeline formed further out in the Pacific, but forecasters predicted it would pose no threat to land as it moved away from Mexico.