Storm Fiona intensified overnight and became a hurricane today. As it moves south of Puerto Rico, some parts of the island will receive up to 25 inches of rain.
As of 11 a.m., the National Hurricane Center advisory said its center was located 50 miles south of Ponce, Puerto Rico, with maximum sustained winds moving west-northwest at 8 mph.
Puerto Rican weather stations reported hurricane-force winds of 140 miles outward with sustained winds of 55 mph Sunday morning.
“On the forecast track, Fiona’s center will approach Puerto Rico this morning and move near or over Puerto Rico this afternoon or evening.” NHC Hurricane Specialist Brad Reinhardt said. “Fiona will move near the northern coast of the Dominican Republic tonight and Monday, and near or east of the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday.”
Hurricane warnings are in effect for Puerto Rico and parts of the Dominican Republic, and hurricane watches are in place for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Tropical storm warnings are in effect for parts of the US and British Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, and a tropical storm watch is in effect for the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas.
The system’s intense rain continues to lash both the US and British Virgin Islands, but is now moving over Puerto Rico and is expected to affect the Dominican Republic later in the day, the NHC said.
“These rainfall amounts will create life-threatening flash floods and urban flooding across parts of Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic, and will create mudslides and landslides in more mountainous areas,” Reinhardt said.
It is expected to drop 12 to 16 inches across the entire island, with some areas seeing up to 25 inches.
“It’s time to take action,” said Nino Correa, Puerto Rico’s emergency management commissioner.
The storm is forecast to hit towns and cities along Puerto Rico’s southern coast as it recovers from a series of strong earthquakes that hit the region in late 2019, with many schools still closed and debris being cleared. By Saturday night more than 100 people had sought refuge across the island, most of them in the southern coastal town of Guanilla.
With Fiona set to arrive two days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, the deadliest Category 4 storm that hit on September 20, 2017, anxiety levels were high across the island. People climbed into windows and stored food and water.
“All the Puerto Ricans who lived through Maria asked, ‘What’s going to happen, how long will it last, what needs will we face?’ I think there’s post-traumatic stress disorder,” said employee Danny Hernandez. He planned to ride out the storm with his parents and family in the capital city of San Juan but in the western city of Mayaguez.
Many Puerto Ricans were also concerned about power outages, with Luma, the company that operates the transmission and distribution of electricity, warning of “widespread service interruptions.”
Puerto Rico’s power grid has been damaged and weakened by Hurricane Maria, and reconstruction has only recently begun. Power outages are a daily occurrence and fires have occurred at power plants in recent months.
Puerto Rico’s governor, Pedro Pierluzzi, said he was prepared to declare a state of emergency if necessary and activated the National Guard as the sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season approaches.
The system’s updated track predicts it will travel further away from Florida as the system moves northwest as the center passes over western Puerto Rico and east of the Turks and Caicos into the Atlantic, threatening Bermuda by the weekend as a strong Category 2 system with winds of 110 mph and gusts of 130 mph.
Already, storm surge and a deluge from Fiona has affected the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, with at least two people reported washed away and more than 20 rescued by rising waters on Saturday. One death was confirmed on Sunday.
The storm caused severe road damage in Guadeloupe, with video on Twitter showing fast-moving floodwaters gushing through streets and roads washed out with up to 2 feet of floodwaters washing away cars.
More than 8 inches of rain was recorded in some parts of the island.
Government officials with the French foreign ministry said two people were missing after being swept away by rising waters overnight.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic, a tropical wave was detected mid-Thursday between the west coast of Africa and the Lesser Antilles islands. The weather system is producing scattered showers and thunderstorms, and is forecast to develop slowly as it turns northward over the central subtropical Atlantic this weekend and early next week. NHC generates 20% in five days.
Despite the low chance, Colorado State University is consistent with the release of its tropical forecast for the next two weeks, saying the tropics will be very busy with 50% above-average activity. CSU gave a 40% chance of normal function and a 10% chance of below-average function.
Fiona could become the third hurricane of the season, following Hurricanes Daniela and Earl earlier this month.
An above-average tropical season was forecast, with July and August mostly quiet before picking up steam on September 1.
Atlantic hurricane season June 1-Nov. 30
The Associated Press contributed to this report.