Fiona was 70 miles (115 kilometers) south of St. Croix late Saturday afternoon, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph). It was moving west at 9 mph (15 kph) on a trail expected to pass near or over Puerto Rico Sunday night. Fiona was expected to become a hurricane before reaching the south coast of Puerto Rico.
“We’re already starting to feel its effects,” Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi said at a news conference during which the lights went out for a moment as he spoke, sparking moans and laughter across the island. “We should not underestimate this storm.”
Officials said the expected heavy rainfall would be dangerous as the island’s soil is already saturated.
“We’re not saying the wind isn’t dangerous, but we’re preparing for a historic event in terms of rain,” said Ernesto Morales, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in San Juan.
Many Puerto Ricans have been concerned about severe power outages since rebuilding the island’s electrical grid that was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. The grid remains vulnerable and power cuts occur daily, with some 37,000 customers already in the dark Saturday.
Luma, the company that manages power transmission and distribution on the island, said it flew in 100 additional line workers before the storm, but warned of “significant” power cuts over the weekend.
Fiona would sweep past the Dominican Republic as a potential hurricane Monday, then Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands with the threat of extreme rain.
Forecaster placed a hurricane watch for the US Virgin Islands and for 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 opened shelters and closed public beaches, casinos, theaters and museums while urging people to stay indoors. Officials have also transferred hundreds of endangered Puerto Rican parrots to their sanctuary.
“It’s time to activate your emergency plan and contact and help your family members, especially older adults who live alone,” said Dr. Gloria Amador, who runs a nonprofit health organization in downtown Puerto Rico.
Pierluisi said $550 million in emergency funds were available to deal with the storm’s aftermath, along with enough food to feed 200,000 people three times a day for 20 days.
At least one cruise ship visit and several flights to the island were canceled while authorities in the eastern Caribbean islands canceled the school and banned people from practicing water sports as Fiona ravaged the region.
In Guadeloupe, authorities said they recorded wind gusts of up to 120 km/h. They also said 23 inches of rain fell in the Gros Morne area in three hours.
Fiona, the sixth storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, was expected to bring 13 to 25 inches of rain in eastern and southern Puerto Rico, with as much as 20 inches (51 centimeters) in isolated spots. Rain of 10 to 20 centimeters was forecast for the Dominican Republic, with up to 30 centimeters in places. Life-threatening surf was also possible from Fiona’s winds, forecasters said.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lester dissipated in the eastern Pacific Ocean Saturday afternoon after making landfall south of Acapulco on Mexico’s southwest coast.
The cluster of storms was about 95 miles (155 kilometers) east-southeast of Acapulco, with maximum sustained winds of 30 mph (45 kph) late in the afternoon.
The hurricane center said Lester’s remnants could fall from 20 to 31 inches of rain on the coasts of upper Guerrero state and Michoacan state, with isolated areas reaching 16 inches (41 centimeters).
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Madeline formed further into the Pacific Ocean, but forecasters predicted it would pose no threat to the country if it moved away from Mexico.