Hurricane threat as Tropical Storm Fiona targets Puerto Rico

Associated Press

HAVANA (AP) — Puerto Ricans braced for high winds and extreme rain as Tropical Storm Fiona swept through when it was expected to turn into a hurricane before hitting the south coast of US territory on Sunday afternoon.

Forecasters said “historic” rain levels are expected to produce landslides and heavy flooding, with up to 20 inches predicted in isolated areas.

“It’s time to act and worry,” said Nino Correa, Puerto Rico’s emergency management commissioner.

Fiona was centered 150 miles (240 kilometers) southeast of Ponce, Puerto Rico on Saturday evening. 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 expected to hit towns and villages along Puerto Rico’s southern coast that are still recovering from a series of severe earthquakes that hit the area beginning in late 2019, with several schools still closed and debris to remove.

More than 100 people had sought refuge across the island by Saturday night, the majority of them in the southern coastal town of Guayanilla.

With Fiona due to arrive just two days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, a deadly Category 4 storm that hit on September 20, 2017, anxiety levels were high across the island. People boarded up windows and stocked up on food and water.

“I think all of us Puerto Ricans who have lived through Maria have this post-traumatic stress of, ‘What’s going to happen, how long is this going to last, and what needs might we be facing? ? said Danny Hernández, who works in the capital city of San Juan but planned to ride out the storm with his parents and family in the western town of Mayaguez.

He said the atmosphere was gloomy at the supermarket as he and others made sure they were well stocked before the storm hit.

“After Maria, we all experienced scarcity to some degree,” he said.

Many Puerto Ricans were also concerned about power outages, with Luma, the company that operates electricity transmission and distribution, warning of “widespread service interruptions”.

Puerto Rico’s power grid was flattened by Hurricane Maria and remains fragile, with reconstruction having only recently begun. Blackouts are a daily occurrence and fires in power plants have occurred in recent months.

Puerto Rico Governor 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 neared. .

“What worries me the most is the rain,” said forecaster Ernesto Morales of the National Weather Service in San Juan.

Fiona was forecast 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 isolated spots.

It was expected to pass the Dominican Republic on Monday, then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands with the threat of heavy rains. It could threaten the far south 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 has already battered 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 formed further out in the Pacific, but forecasters predicted it would pose no threat to land as it moved away from Mexico.