By Dánica Coto |Associated Press
HAVANA — Tropical Storm Fiona was expected to become a hurricane as it neared Puerto Rico on Saturday, threatening to dump up to 20 inches (51 centimeters) 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 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 90 miles (145 kilometers) south-southeast of St. Croix Saturday afternoon with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph). It was moving west at 8 mph (13 kph) 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 Gov. 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, with some 80,000 customers already in the dark on Saturday.
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.
Forecaster issued a hurricane watch for the U.S. 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 $550 million in emergency funds are 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 74 mph (120 kph), which would be considered a Category 1 hurricane. They also said 9 inches (23 centimeters) of rain fell in three hours in the Gros Morne area.
Fiona, which is the Atlantic hurricane season’s sixth named storm, was predicted to bring 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 centimeters) of rain in eastern and southern Puerto Rico, with as much as 20 inches (51 centimeters) in isolated spots. Rains of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) were forecast for the Dominican Republic, with up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) in places. Life-threatening surf also was possible from Fiona’s winds, forecasters said.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lester in the eastern Pacific was on a projected path that could bring landfall near the Acapulco area on Mexico’s southwestern coast Saturday night.
Lester was expected to remain a tropical storm until hitting the Mexican coast. Forecasters warned of potential dangers from heavy rains.
The storm had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph) on Saturday. It was centered 85 miles (140 kilometers) east-southeast of Acapulco and moving northwest at 10 mph (17 kph).
The hurricane center said Lester could drop from 8 to 12 inches (20 to 31 centimeters) of rain on the coasts of upper Guerrero state and Michoacan state, with isolated areas getting 16 inches (41 centimeters).
The storm’s center is expected to dissipate on Saturday afternoon.