HAVANA (AP) — Puerto Ricans braced for high winds and extreme rain as Tropical Storm Fiona descended, expecting it to develop into a hurricane before striking the U.S. territory’s southern coast on Sunday afternoon.
Forecasters said “historic” amounts of rain were expected to bring landslides and severe flooding, with up to 20 inches forecast in remote areas.
“It’s time to take action and worry,” said Nino Correa, Puerto Rico’s emergency management officer.
Fiona was centered 150 miles (240 kilometers) southeast of Ponce, Puerto Rico, late Saturday. It had maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 km/h) and was moving west-northwest at 8 mph (13 km/h).
The storm was forecast to batter cities along Puerto Rico’s south coast still recovering from a series of powerful earthquakes that struck the region as of late 2019, with several schools yet to close and debris to be cleared.
More than 100 people had taken shelter across the island by Saturday night, most of them in the southern coastal city of Guayanilla.
With Fiona due just two days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, a deadly Category 4 storm that struck on September 20, 2017, fear ran high across the island. People boarded up windows and stocked up on food and water.
“I think all of us Puerto Ricans who have experienced Maria have this post-traumatic stress: ‘What’s going to happen, how long is it going to take, and what needs might we come up with?'” said Danny Hernández, who works in the capital city of San Juan , but planned to weather the storm with his parents and family in the western town of Mayaguez.
He said the atmosphere at the supermarket was somber as he and others made sure they were well stocked before the storm hit.
“After Maria, we’ve all experienced scarcity to some degree,” he said.
Many Puerto Ricans were also concerned about power outages, with Luma, the company that runs power transmission and distribution, warning of “widespread service disruptions.”
Puerto Rico’s power grid was devastated by Hurricane Maria and remains vulnerable as reconstruction has only recently begun. Outages are the order of the day, and fires have broken out at power plants in recent months.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said he was ready to declare a state of emergency if necessary and activated the National Guard as the sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season approached.
“What worries me the most is the rain,” said Ernesto Morales, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in San Juan.
Fiona was predicted to drop 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 centimeters) of rain over eastern and southern Puerto Rico, with up to 20 inches (51 centimeters) in spots.
It was forecast to pass the Dominican Republic on Monday and then with the risk of heavy rain over northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands. It could threaten the far southern end of the Bahamas on Tuesday.
A hurricane warning has been issued for the east coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Frances Viejo.
Fiona had previously hit the eastern Caribbean, killing a man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods washed away his home, officials said. The storm also damaged roads, uprooted trees and destroyed at least one bridge.
In the eastern Pacific, Tropical Storm Lester dissipated Saturday afternoon after making landfall south of Acapulco on Mexico’s southwest coast.
Tropical Storm Madeline was forming further out in the Pacific, but forecasters predicted it would pose no land threat as it moved away from Mexico.
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