Puerto Rico under hurricane warning as tropical storm Fiona nears
Tropical Storm Fiona was expected to become a hurricane as it neared Puerto Rico on Saturday, threatening to dump up to 20 inches (51cm) of rain as people braced for potential landslides, severe flooding and power outages.
The storm previously battered various eastern Caribbean islands, with one death reported in the French territory of Guadeloupe. Regional prefect Alexandre Rochatte told reporters on Saturday that the body was found on the side of a road after floods washed away a home in the capital of Basse-Terre.
More than 20 other people were rescued amid heavy wind and rain that left 13,000 customers without power.
Fiona was located 130 miles (210km) south-east of St Croix on Saturday morning with maximum sustained winds of 60mph (95km/h).
It was moving west at 8mph (13km/h) on a path forecast to pass near or over Puerto Rico on Sunday night. Fiona was expected to become a hurricane while moving near Puerto Rico.
“We are already starting to feel its effects,” said Puerto Rico’s governor, Pedro Pierluisi. “We should not underestimate this storm.”
He said the heavy rains anticipated are dangerous because the island’s soil is already saturated. Meanwhile, many Puerto Ricans worried about serious power outages since the reconstruction of the island’s power grid razed by Hurricane Maria in 2017 only recently began. The grid remains fragile and power outages occur daily.
Fiona is expected to swipe past the Dominican Republic on Sunday as a potential hurricane and Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands on Monday and Tuesday with the threat of extreme rain.
Forecasters issued a hurricane watch for the US Virgin Islands, as well as the southern coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engaño westward to Cabo Caucedo and for the northern coast from Cabo Engaño westward to Puerto Plata.
In Puerto Rico, authorities opened shelters and closed public beaches, casinos, theaters and museums as they urged people to remain indoors. Officials also transferred hundreds of endangered Puerto Rican parrots to their shelter.
“It’s time to activate your emergency plan and contact and help your relatives, especially elderly adults who live alone,” said Dr Gloria Amador, who runs a nonprofit health organization in central Puerto Rico.
Pierluisi said $550m in emergency funds is available to deal with the storm’s aftermath, 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 canceled, while authorities in the eastern Caribbean islands canceled school and prohibited people from practicing aquatic sports as Fiona battered the region.
In the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, authorities said they recorded wind gusts of up to 74mph (120km/h), which would be considered a Category 1 hurricane. They also said 9in (23cm) of rain fell in three hours in the Gros Morne area.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lester in the eastern Pacific was on a projected path that could bring landfall near the Acapulco area on Mexico’s south-western coast on Saturday night.