HAVANA — Tropical Storm Fiona made its way into Puerto Rico on Saturday, with forecasters warning it was likely to develop into a hurricane before hitting Sunday with extremely heavy rains that could potentially cause landslides, severe flooding and power outages.
The storm has already lashed several eastern Caribbean islands, with one death reported in the French territory of Guadeloupe. Regional Prefect Alexandre Rochatte said the body was found by the side of the road after a house was washed away in the capital, Basse-Terre. More than 20 other people were rescued as strong winds and rain left 13,000 customers without power, with the storm tearing up roads, downing trees and destroying at least one bridge.
Fiona was 120 kilometers south of St. Croix on Saturday night with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 km/h). It was traveling west at 13 km/h on a path expected to fly near or over Puerto Rico on Sunday evening. Fiona was expected to become a hurricane before reaching the southern coast of Puerto Rico.
“We’re already starting to feel the effects,” the governor of Puerto Rico said. Pedro Pierluisi said at a news conference, where the lights went out briefly while he spoke, prompting groans and laughter across the island. “We should not underestimate this storm.”
Officials said the expected heavy rains were dangerous as the island’s soil was already saturated.
“We’re not saying the winds are safe, but we’re preparing for a historic event in terms of rain,” said Ernesto Morales, meteorologist with the San Juan National Weather Service.
Many Puerto Ricans have feared serious power outages since the island’s power grid, which was destroyed by Hurricane Maria in 2017, recently began rebuilding. The network remains fragile and there are power cuts every day.
Luma, the company that runs the transmission and distribution of electricity on the island, said it had flown in 100 extra line workers ahead of the storm but warned of “significant” outages over the weekend.
Fiona was forecast to pass Monday as a potential hurricane past the Dominican Republic and then Haiti and the Turks and Caicos with the risk of extreme rain.
Forecaster released a hurricane watch for the US Virgin Islands and the south coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engaño west to Cabo Caucedo and for the north coast from Cabo Engaño 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 also brought hundreds of endangered Puerto Rican parrots to their shelter.
“It’s time to activate your emergency plan and to contact and help your loved ones, especially older adults living alone,” said Dr. Gloria Amador, who runs a nonprofit health organization in central Puerto Rico.
The governor said an elderly man died shortly after arriving at a shelter on the tiny island of Culebra, east of Puerto Rico. He said the man was living in deplorable conditions and the mayor had tried to relocate him, calling it a “rather unfortunate incident”.
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 three times a day for 20 days.
At least one cruise ship visit and several flights to the island have been canceled while authorities in the eastern Caribbean islands canceled school and banned people from water sports while Fiona attacked the region.
In Guadeloupe, authorities said they had registered wind gusts of up to 120 km/h. They also said that 9 inches of rain fell in the Gros Morne area in three hours.
Fiona, the sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, is expected to bring 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 centimeters) of rain in eastern and southern Puerto Rico, up to 51 centimeters (20 inches) in spots. Rain of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) has been forecast for the Dominican Republic, with up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) in places. A life-threatening surge from Fiona’s winds was also a possibility, according to forecasters.
Meanwhile, Eastern Pacific Tropical Storm Lester dissipated Saturday afternoon after making landfall south of Acapulco on Mexico’s southwest coast.
The hurricane center said Lester’s remnant on the coasts of upper Guerrero state and Michoacan state could still fall 8 to 12 inches (20 to 31 centimeters) of rain, with isolated areas reaching 41 centimeters (16 inches).
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Madeline was forming deeper in the Pacific, but forecasters predicted it would pose no threat to the land if it moved further out to sea.
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