Puerto Rico braces for potential hurricane as Tropical Storm Fiona approaches

Havana – Tropical Storm Fiona headed to Puerto Rico on Saturday, with meteorologists warning it could turn into a hurricane before hitting Sunday with very heavy rain with the potential for landslides, severe flooding and power outages.

The storm has already hit several eastern Caribbean islands, and one death has been reported in the French territory of Guadeloupe. Regional Governor Alexandre Rochat said the body was found on the side of the road after a house in the capital of Bas-Terry was washed away. More than 20 other people were rescued amid high winds and rain that left 13,000 customers without power, as the storm damaged roads, toppled trees and destroyed at least one bridge.

Fiona was centered 75 miles (120 kilometers) south of St. Croix on Saturday evening with maximum winds of 60 mph (95 kph). It was moving west at 8 mph (13 kph) on a track expected to pass near or over Puerto Rico Sunday night. Fiona was expected to turn into a hurricane before it reached the southern coast of Puerto Rico.

“We’re already beginning to feel its effects,” Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Pierluisi said at a news conference in which the lights went out briefly as he spoke, causing groans and laughter across the island. “We must not underestimate this storm.”

Officials said the expected heavy rain would be dangerous because the island’s soil is already saturated.

“We’re not saying the winds aren’t dangerous, but we’re preparing for a historic event in terms of precipitation,” said Ernesto Morales, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Juan.

Many Puerto Ricans have been concerned about the dangerous blackout since it only recently began rebuilding the island’s power grid that was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. The network is still fragile and there are daily blackouts.

Loma, the company that manages power transmission and distribution on the island, said it flew an additional 100 workers before the storm but warned of “significant” outages over the weekend.

Fiona was expected to overtake the Dominican Republic on Monday as a potential hurricane and then Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands with a risk of heavy rain.

Forecaster posted a hurricane watch for the US Virgin Islands as well as the southern 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 have opened shelters and closed public beaches, casinos, theaters and museums as they urged people to stay home. Officials have also moved hundreds of endangered Puerto Rican parrots to their sanctuary.

“It’s time to activate your emergency plan and call and help your relatives, especially seniors living alone,” said Dr. Gloria Amador, who runs a health nonprofit in central Puerto Rico.

The governor said an elderly man died shortly after arriving at a shelter on the small island of Culebra, east of Puerto Rico. He said the man was living in squalid conditions and that the mayor was trying to move him, describing it as a “very unfortunate accident.”

Pierluisi said $550 million in emergency funds was available to deal with the aftermath of the storm as well as 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 have been cancelled, while authorities in the eastern Caribbean islands have canceled school and banned people from water sports as Fiona hit the area.

In Guadeloupe, authorities said they recorded winds of up to 74 mph (120 kph). They also said 9 inches (23 centimeters) of rain fell in three hours in the Gros Morne region.

Fiona, the sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, is expected to bring 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 cm) of rain in eastern and southern Puerto Rico, with up to 20 inches (51 cm) in isolated areas. 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) of rain was expected in the Dominican Republic, with up to 12 inches (30 cm) in places. Forecasters said the life-threatening surf was also possible due to Fiona’s winds.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Leicester dissipated in the eastern Pacific on Saturday afternoon after reaching southern Acapulco on Mexico’s southwest coast.

The hurricane center said that remnants of Leicester could still receive 8 to 12 inches (20 to 31 cm) of rain on the coasts of upper Guerrero and Michoacan, with 16 inches (41 cm) rising in isolated areas.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Madeleine has formed deep in the Pacific Ocean, but meteorologists have predicted that it will pose no threat to Earth as it moves far into the sea.

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