A weather system heading for the eastern Caribbean was predicted to develop into a tropical storm on Wednesday as forecasters warned Puerto Rico and other islands to prepare for the possibility of dangerous heavy rains and strong winds.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm was expected to move over or near the Leeward Islands on Wednesday and Puerto Rico on Wednesday night, then brush the northern shores of Hispaniola the following day while on a path that could take it to the U.S. mainland by the weekend.
But the centre also cautioned that it was too early to pinpoint what the system would do. “It cannot be stressed enough that since the system is still in the formative stage, greater than average uncertainty exists regarding both the short-term and longer-term track and intensity forecasts,” its advisory said.
Forecasters issued tropical storm warnings for Puerto Rico, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Antigua, Barbuda, Dominica, Martinique, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Martin, St. Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius and portions of the Dominican Republic. A tropical storm warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected within within 36 hours.
The forecast warned the islands could experience 3 to 6 inches (8 to 15 cm) of rainfall, with up to 10 inches (25 cm) in isolated spots.
Officials in Puerto Rico expressed concern about the potential for landslides and flooding and urged people to take precautions. They noted the U.S. territory is struggling with a spike in coronavirus cases while also still recovering from 2017’s devastating Hurricane Maria and a string of earthquakes earlier this year that damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes in the island’s south.
“We’re not facing a situation like Maria, but we have to remain wary,” said Pedro Janer, secretary of the Department of Public Safety.
At a news conference, Gov. Wanda Vazquez predicted the storm would cause power outages. Puerto Rico’s power grid was destroyed by Maria and the rebuilt system is fragile and susceptible to failures. Earlier Tuesday, the island’s power company and union leaders said electricity failed briefly for more than 450,000 customers when a plant was knocked offline for unknown reasons.
The governor said that more than 300 shelters across the island were prepared to receive people if needed and that more than 130,000 face masks were available.
“We’ve lived through several emergencies at one time,” Vazquez said. “I want you to remain calm.”
Late Tuesday night, the storm system had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph). It was centred 235 miles (380 kilometres) southeast of the Leeward Islands and moving west-northwest at 25 mph (41 kph).